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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Universities urged to tackle PhD mental health crisis | Times Higher Education

Follow on Twitter as @elliebothwell
Ellie Bothwell, reporter covering university rankings, fundraising and all areas of internationalisation. Ellie also reports on higher education in North America says, "Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study."

Someone to watch over me? A YouthSight and YouGov survey last year found that one in five UK students thought that their institution’s mental health services were not helpful.
Photo: Getty
Universities have been urged to do more to tackle a mental health crisis among postgraduates as new figures show that more than half of PhD students experience symptoms of psychological distress and one in three is at risk of having or developing a psychiatric disorder.

The latest evidence of the problems experienced by doctoral students comes from a survey that compared PhD candidates with other groups in universities and wider society. It found that PhD students were 2.8 times more likely to develop mental health problems than university employees that hold a higher education qualification and 2.4 times more likely than degree-holders in the general population. The risk was also 1.9 times higher at PhD level than among other university students.

The study, detailed in a paper authored by academics in four countries and published in Research Policy, surveyed 3,659 PhD students, 769 degree-educated people in the general population, 592 degree-educated employees and 333 students undertaking bachelor’s, master’s or other higher education programmes. All respondents were based in the Flanders region of Belgium.

It found that 51 per cent of PhD students suffered from at least two of 12 symptoms that are indicators of psychological distress, compared with between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of respondents in the comparison groups.

Two-fifths (40 per cent) of PhD students reported at least three symptoms and 32 per cent experienced at least four; the latter is seen as an indication of being at risk of having or developing a mental illness.

The most common symptom was feeling under constant strain, which was selected by 41 per cent of PhD students and between 27 per cent and 30 per cent of the comparison respondents.

Other prevalent symptoms among PhD students were unhappiness and depression (30 per cent) and sleeping problems owing to worries (28 per cent).

Work-family conflict, job demands, job control and leadership style were the strongest predictors of mental illness among PhD students.

Photo: Katia Levecque
Katia Levecque, professor of industrial relations at Ghent University and co-author of the study, said that the results indicated that the environment in which PhD students work is “associated with mental health risks” that may not impact on other types of students.


Ellie ends her article with the following: "Rosemary Deem, dean of the doctoral school and vice-principal (education) at Royal Holloway, University of London and chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, said that universities have made some headway in tackling mental health issues among PhD students but that progress is patchy and there is “an awful lot more that we can do”."
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Universities can do more to support PhD students’ mental health.
Supervisors should be trained to spot the first sign of a problem, says Chris Havergal, news editor since February 2017.

Source: Times Higher Education (THE) 


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