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Could I really be the only one struggling? A graduate student opens up about mental health

close up on a person's hands
Photo by Ümit Bulut
Dec 6 2018
Fellow, Stanford, Students

Two weeks ago, researchers at Harvard published a study that looked at mental health issues in economics graduate students at several universities. They found that levels of moderate to severe anxiety and depression in these students were three times greater than the national average. In the same study, 1 in 10 students reported having suicidal thoughts over the past two weeks.

If you’ve spent any time in academia, none of this probably surprises you. Whether it’s the immense pressure from an adviser to publish a high-impact paper or the dwindling savings (if any at all) in your back account as the months tick by, there’s a lot in graduate school to talk about with your therapist.

Yet as common as mental health issues are in the graduate student community, reports of the ongoing “mental health crisis” continue to make national and international news. Why is this alarming to so many people? Part of the reason, I believe, is because very few students openly discuss mental health. The taboo surrounding mental health problems is frustratingly pervasive. I would often look around the room during classes and meetings at my fellow classmates in bewilderment — could I really be the only one struggling?

Francis Aguisanda is a 2017 Stanford Graduate Fellow.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can reach a CAPS on-call clinician at 650-723-3785 any time, including evenings and weekends. Help is also available from: the Santa Clara County Suicide & Crisis Hotline at (855) 278-4204; Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741); or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. These three services are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.