Let's Talk About It

Let's Talk About It


        As a grad school student in my fifth year, I have to say that grad school it’s being a roller coaster and through this process there is not only academic challenges.  I have to say that on one point of my grad school life I did not know what to do, I was trying to look for a balance between “it’s okay to make mistakes” and “work harder”.  I can describe myself as a person who commits to work and is responsible, so for me it was difficult to recognize when I had to take a break; because I was used to make sacrifices and work hard.  Also, besides all the academic work; I had to acknowledge that there were others responsibilities in the game like work and family. At the beginning I thought I was the only one with struggles to balance all, but suddenly when I commented with my friends; I realized that they were on the same page.  So thanks to all the supportive words and gestures I started to acknowledge that all of that was part of the process and being in an overwhelmed mood all the time wasn't “normal”. I wasn't happy, even if I was studying something that I love and wanted to do professionally. 


       But, in 2016 we got news from a college grad school student from Ponce and sadly it wasn't good news; he commit suicide.  After that we started talking about the situation in the classroom and then it got to the conversation that years ago another student from San Juan did the same.  Suddenly, reality made a wake up call; making me understood that beyond being grad school students we also had to be conscious that we have a life. Then, I started asking myself; What type of situations this colleges went through to take them to make that decision? What type of situations our colleges are going through now? Those events wasn’t far from what literature discuss about mental health of grad school students population.  


       “Several studies suggest that graduate students are at greater risk for mental health issues than those in the general population” (Flaherty, 2018).  Considering that the Board of Education from Puerto Rico (2018) have a register of 28,781 grad school students at the 2017-2018 academic year.  To my surprise, at the moment I was doing the research; I couldn’t find journals related to mental health of grad school students from Puerto Rico.  However, I found a study from Harvard University that came up with results related to mental health in a grad school population. “Using clinically validated surveys, they found that 18% of graduate students experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression and anxiety - more than three times the population average - and 11% report suicidal ideation in a two-week period” (Barreira, Basilico and Valentin Bolotnyy, 2018).  In another study the results shows  that: “39% of respondents students scored in the moderate to severe depression range, as compared to 6% of the general population measured previously with the same scale”(Evans, Bira, Beltran Gastelum, Weiss and Vanderford, 2018). 


           At the other side of the outcomes from this data, the authors tried to search for protective factors for grad school students.  It seems like the findings reveal that  good work-life balance is “significantly correlated with better mental health outcomes.” (Colleen Flaherty, 2018).  Although, another protective factor, in terms of correlation; they pointed out that “positive mentoring relationships between graduate students and their PI/advisors correlate significantly with less anxiety and depression” (Evans et al., 2018).  In other writings, Puri (2019) encourages to make adjustments to program criteria and economic helps that could be useful for grad school students; mentioning it as options to adapt to new students lifestyle challenges


            Nobody told us that pursuing our goals would be this hard, and usually mental health doesn't seem as a priority in grad school; because we are focused on the deadline, the relationship, the hour... and more.  Even so, taking care of ourselves helps us to get in charge of our life; instead of just trying to survive day by day. Give to yourself this chance, you are not alone and let's encourage others to do the same.  


Less self-judgment, More self-compassion. 

                                                       Picture from: Mindful healthy mind, healthy life



Barreira, P., Basilico, M. and Bolotnyy, V. (2018). Graduate Student Mental Health: Lessons from American Economics Departments. [PDF] Available at: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/bolotnyy/files/bbb_mentalhealth_paper.pdf.


Consejo de Educación de Puerto Rico  (2018). Compendio Estadístico sobre la Educación Superior de Puerto Rico Año académico 2017-18. 



Evans, T., Bira, L., Gastelum, J., Weiss, L. and Vanderford, N. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, [online] 36(3), pp.282-284. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4089.


Flaherty, C. (2018). New study says graduate students' mental health is a "crisis". [online] Insidehighered.com. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/06/new-study-says-graduate-s....


Puri, P. (2019). The Emotional Toll of Graduate School. [Blog] Scientific American. Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-emotional-toll-of-....