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Graduate Student Mental Health

By Emily Rendek

It’s no secret that there’s a “mental health crisis in graduate education,” but the question remains how to best solve the issue.

A survey sent out this past spring to graduate students at UofSC showed that 38% of the 226 respondents rated their mental health as either “fair” or “poor.” Nearly half (48%) had accessed mental health services on campus at some point, and of those approximately 62% rated their experience as “satisfactory” or “very satisfactory.”

With graduate students potentially more than six times as likely as the general population to experience depression and anxiety, as one study showed, what can be done to best address the needs of the graduate student population?

Though mental health has become a more widely discussed topic, stigma certainly still plays a role in preventing students from seeking help. UofSC has sought to destigmatize the process of seeking help through its #berealbethere Mental Health Matters Campaign, with students sharing stories of their own experiences with mental health struggles. The Graduate Student Association (GSA) Secretary of Health, Haven Spanyer emphasizes the importance of destigmatization as well: “If I could pick one thing that I wish students at USC would understand, it is that asking for help does not make you weak. You do not have to experience a horrible, traumatic event to be “qualified” to attend a counseling session. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to improve your mental wellbeing and everyone can benefit from practices, such as counseling, meant to improve personal mental health. The number of people struggling is much larger than you think, and you never know what is hiding behind a smile. You are not alone, and you are worthy—take care of yourself.”

GSA President Jennifer Mandelbaum was willing to share her own personal experiences with UofSC counselling services: “You don’t have to know why you’re not feeling well before seeking help (you might not know the virus that’s making you ill either, right?). It’s completely fine to make an appointment simply because you don’t feel like yourself or think you could use professional guidance (I’ve done that before). It’s also okay to show up to the counseling center without an appointment because you’re having an emergency. I was on campus when I learned my dad passed away unexpectedly in October, and I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I made a beeline from my office to the counseling center, and a therapist was able to meet with me almost immediately. It helped to be able to share how I was feeling in the moment, have a private space to begin to process what happened, and sketch out a plan for the next few hours until my extended family would arrive in town and see me through the next day. Whether you’re feeling down or dealing with a crisis, know that Counseling and Psychiatry is there to help, and all you have to do is ask.”

Graduate students are often dealing with a myriad of stressors—from low pay, a work life that’s often isolating, dim job prospects, and mounting debt. As one of The Atlantic’s recent articles pointed out, “Graduate School Can Have Terrible Effects on People’s Mental Health.” The article also suggests that those at the end of their programs had a higher likelihood of reporting severe symptoms of anxiety or depression than those just starting their graduate careers. Though it’s often hard for graduate students to find time for self-care it can be vital for good mental health. Venice Haynes, President of the Black Graduate Student Association states, “I have learned over the years that grad school can be a lot harder on you if you do not take time for yourself. The importance of self-care, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically should not be taken lightly. Find some creative ways to make time for it. Make it a priority like everything else. You might be surprised at how much more productive you will be!" 

Faculty mentors can also play an important role in graduate student mental health. In an earlier post we asked, “What is mentoring?”; trying to answer that question plays a big part here as well. Faculty nationwide have expressed concern over not knowing what resources on their campuses were available to students, as well as not knowing where to draw the line in terms of knowing how much help they should provide for students’ mental health. Educating faculty is just as important as educating graduate students about the resources available. The Nature Biotechnology study data also suggests the “advisor relationship with graduate students affects the quality of training in graduate education.” Dr. Linda Hazlett, Graduate Director for Epidemiology and Clinical Associate Professor here at UofSC, recognizes the importance of faculty members needing to be aware of graduate students’ mental health issues and notes that “As a graduate director, we have graduate students who have lots of serious problems (life events, mental health issues) that are affecting their ability to finish their degree on time, and so we as faculty and mentors need to be aware that this is happening with students so we can be sensitive when this happens. It’s important to talk about this with faculty to support each other. It would be helpful to get guidance from some mental health counselors. We need to know where our job ends and theirs begins.”

Jennifer Mandelbaum says that she also tries to share her experiences with faculty members and suggests that faculty attend a Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training. “Some faculty members are more tuned-in to their students’ mental health than others, and some students are more vocal about their needs. I don’t hesitate to tell faculty and other students that I’ve gone to the counseling center before and found it helpful, since mental health can be particularly challenging in graduate school. One thing I recommend faculty do to be more proactive is to attend a Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training. It’s a short workshop (less than two hours), and it covers a lot of ground. The workshop not only focuses on what to do when a student is at risk for self-harm, but also how faculty can be better allies in addressing their students’ general mental health care needs (e.g., the workshop facilitator shares a lot of on-campus resources).”

While there may not be a magical one-size fits all approach to solving the graduate student mental health crisis on campuses nationwide, through a variety of resources and groups we can each help look out for each other and take charge of our mental health.

Below we have provided a list of resources available at UofSC for students, faculty & staff, as well as events, and outside resources.

 

TRAINING & ADVOCACY:

Student Health Services also provides Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training. As they emphasize on their website with this training, “You are not expected to be a mental health professional. This is why we use the word gatekeeper. You are invaluable to assisting a struggling person in getting the help they need. You serve as a gatekeeper to mental health services.”

The online program Kognito can help you learn the signs of psychological distress in others and help practice getting someone else the help they need.

Student Health Services has a Student Advisory Panel for those who are interested about mental health. You can apply to be a part of the Advisory Panel here.

FACULTY AND STAFF:

Mental Health Liaison training, which takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to deliver, has been developed by Student Health Services to equip faculty and staff with the information and resources to help them identify students in distress and communicate effectively with those students. This training also aims to increase awareness of mental health resources on campus so that faculty and staff feel comfortable making the  appropriate referral for a student who is in need of help. Additionally, Student Health Services has put together a short handout for faculty and staff to help provide mental health support to students.

COUNSELING & PSYCHIATRY:

Individual Counseling

Work one-on-one with a trained and licensed mental health provider to work toward growth and self-improvement in a safe and confidential environment. Ten individual counselling sessions are included in the mandatory student health fee.

Couples Counseling

Available for all intimate relationships regardless of sexual orientation or identity to help couples strengthen their relationships, address a specific concern or get pre-marital counseling. One partner must be an enrolled UofSC student eligible for counseling services.

Group Counseling

There are a wide-range of group counseling options, including skill-building groups, support groups, and process-oriented groups. Students meet in groups of six to ten with one or two trained therapists.

Community Support after a Trauma

When the Carolina campus community experiences the death of a student, staff or faculty member or other traumatic event, we organize community support meetings. These support meetings are a chance for those affected to gather together and support one another.

Emergencies & After-Hours Crisis

Help is available 24/7. Students who need immediate help can call Counseling & Psychiatry at 803-777-5223 after hours and will receive support or be referred to immediate help. UofSC faculty and staff can also call at any time if they have concerns about a student.

If you or someone you know is considering harming themselves or someone else, please call 911 immediately.

Walk-In Sessions

Available during business hours if you are in crisis.

Monday – Friday: Thomson Building

Sunday Walk-Ins: Center for Health and Well-Being

 

ONLINE SERVICES:

  • Therapist-Assisted Option (TAO): The TAO program provides you with therapeutic interventions anytime, anywhere for anxiety, depression, communication problems and other common concerns.  
  • Interactive Screening Program: Take a free, anonymous mental health screening. You’ll get feedback from a counselor based on your results.  

EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL WELLNESS CAMPUS RESOURCES:

 

UPCOMING EVENTS ON CAMPUS:

December 1st: Mental Health Summit, 9 – 3 p.m., Russell House Ballroom, 207AB

  • The 2018 USC Mental Health Summit is a one-day conference held at the University of South Carolina focusing on destigmatizing the issue of mental health on college campuses and in Columbia.

December 3rd: Man Up Monday, 10 – 2 p.m., Darla Moore School of Business  

  • What does it mean to be masculine in the modern age? Join SAVIP, Leadership and Service Center and the Momentum Series for Man Up Monday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. where we will discuss and define masculinity.

December 7th: Changing Carolina De-Stress Fest, 2:30 – 5:30 p.m., Russell House Patio

  • Come and unwind with Changing Carolina Peer Leaders in their winter themed De-Stress Fest. Learn about self-care, gratitude, and some ways to relieve stress while studying for final exams!

December 12th: Hygge at Work and Home, 12 – 1 p.m., Center for Health & Well-Being, 217

  • Ever heard of the term Hygee (Hoo-gah)? It’s a Danish concept that literally means “cozy.” Sign up for the “Hygee at work & Home” workshop and learn how to introduce a little Hygee to your life!

 

OUTSIDE RESOURCES:

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis support.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

National Institute of Mental Health: The lead federal agency for research on mental disorders.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): ADAA is an international nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and co-occurring disorders through education, practice, and research.

Students Against Depression: A website offering advice, information, guidance and resources to those affected by low mood, depression and suicidal thinking. Alongside clinically-validated information and resources it presents the experiences, strategies and advice of students themselves.

World Health Organization on Mental Health: Good mental health is related to mental and psychological well-being. WHO’s work to improve the mental health of individuals and society at large includes the promotion of mental well-being, the prevention of mental disorders, the protection of human rights and the care of people affected by mental disorders.

 

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