Graduate Student Mental Health Task Force
Half of all graduate students experience psychological distress (1), and approximately one in four graduate students at the University of Michigan report significant symptoms of a mental health problem such as major depression, severe anxiety, disordered eating, or suicidal thoughts (2).
These mental health challenges impact productivity: four in ten graduate students reported that mental or emotional health affected their academic performance in the previous four weeks (3).
This situation requires us to devote express attention and resources to graduate-student mental health. This challenge is also an opportunity: we hope to expand the current focus on graduate-student persistence and graduation to a more holistic wellness approach that emphasizes thriving in graduate school. Our aim is to provide faculty, students, and staff with a better understanding that well-being and academic performance are interdependent and dynamic.
- Levecque et al. 2017 Research Policy
- Healthy Minds Study, unpublished data
- Eisenberg et al. 2007 Am. J. Orthopsychiatry
We have assembled a diverse, multidisciplinary task force made up of faculty, staff, mental health professionals, and graduate students.
- The committee has just begun its work: we are currently focusing on identifying major factors that influence graduate-student mental health, with a goal of identifying changes that Rackham, graduate programs, faculty mentors, and graduate students can make to better support graduate-student mental health.
- During this year, we will develop resources, initiatives, and programs that will help support those changes.
- Next year, we will work with the campus community to implement those recommendations.
The task force hopes to shift the focus from being primarily on whether students are making progress towards their degree. Instead, we call on Rackham Graduate School and graduate programs to prioritize graduate-student health and well-being alongside academic success. In promoting and prioritizing student health, we emphasize the World Health Organization definition of health: a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.
Achieving this goal will require measuring the well-being of students, sharing this information broadly, and rewarding departments and graduate programs that:
- measurably increase student well-being over the next five years and
- reduce observed racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic disparities.
What We’ve Learned
To date, we have surveyed what is known about graduate student mental health and reviewed a wide variety of data that give insight into the current state of graduate-student mental health and the factors influencing it. We have also been developing connections with existing efforts across campus.
During the 2019–2020 academic year, we will explore how graduate student well-being should be defined, measured, tracked, and prioritized. We are also identifying health-promoting factors that can be modified by individuals, graduate programs, and Rackham. Possible areas of focus include changes that would lead to more students:
- feeling a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and social support
- reporting minimal experiences of marginalization and discrimination in graduate school
- receiving supportive mentorship
- having sufficient time to pursue personal interests
Once we identify key health-promoting factors and behaviors that individual graduate students, faculty, graduate programs, and the Rackham Graduate School can adopt, we will work to develop the strategies and resources needed to promote those behaviors. During the 2020-2021 academic year, the task force will work with individuals, graduate programs, and Rackham as they adopt those key behaviors.