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There is a mental health crisis in graduate education, and research institutions need to take action to address it. That’s the take-home message from a global survey of Ph.D. and master's students published today, which adds to the meager but growing literature on the subject and corroborates anecdotal evidence and discussion about the topic from recent years, including a number of personal tragedies and numerous testimonials and concerns expressed on social media and elsewhere.
The new online survey data—2279 responses, mostly from Ph.D. candidates based in 234 institutions across 26 countries, 40% of whom are in the biological and physical sciences and engineering—unveil “strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression” among the graduate population, the authors write in the Nature Biotechnology paper.
Based on clinically validated questionnaires, 41% of respondents showed moderate to severe anxiety and 39% moderate to severe depression, both of which are more than six times the prevalence found in studies of the general population.
The researchers also found significant variation by gender. About one-third of male respondents reported experiencing each condition, compared with approximately 40% of female participants and more than half of the 42 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents.
The data also suggest that a perceived supportive relationship with one’s principal investigator (PI) and healthy work-life balance correlate with better mental health, the authors write. Approximately half of the students with anxiety or depression reported not having supportive relationships with their PIs, as measured in a variety of ways, including whether the students feel valued, whether their PIs have a positive impact on their mental well-being, and whether they feel that their PIs are assets to their careers.
Read more about graduate students mental health by Elisabeth Pain at Science AAAS