Have you been feeling severe anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, problems falling asleep or even trouble concentrating? With the end of the semester looming, not to mention the fall chill in the air for some of us, some of you may be finding it harder to part with the warmth of your bed and begin your day. While these symptoms may be common to you as you prepare for finals and term papers, it is important to take note if these symptoms become a part of your daily lifestyle—and how to seek help.
It is normal to experience times of anxiety and stress throughout your life, but daily symptoms such as those described above could be indicative of a mental illness. A mental illness can be any type of mental health disorder that affects a person’s mood, thoughts, and behavior. If you feel you have experienced any of these symptoms on a daily basis, you are not alone. In fact, a large number of college students (1 in 4 students) have a diagnosable mental illness. Mental illnesses that are most likely to affect college students include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Additionally, studies report that graduate students in particular are six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety over the course of their graduate studies. In these studies, approximately 40% of graduate students surveyed were categorized as having anxiety and/or moderate to severe depression, with higher rates for women in both categories. There are several reasons that may contribute to higher risks of anxiety and/or depression for graduate students, including the isolated nature of graduate level work, feelings of inadequacy or “impostor syndrome,” little to no support from advisers, or worries about post-graduation employment.
Many of you may be thinking, “Who hasn’t experienced these thoughts and feelings in graduate school? Isn’t this normal?” From personal experience, I’d agree and certainly relate to many of these feelings. However, it is important to realize when these symptoms begin to affect your daily life. Having problems falling asleep night after night can have long-term effects on your ability to complete daily tasks. Noticing patterns such as these is key to realizing there may be an underlying reason for these behaviors and motivating you to seek help.
Fortunately, there are several science-backed activities/treatments that can help alleviate mental illness symptoms and even reduce your risk of developing a mental illness. One of the most recommended treatments for depression is exercise. Aerobic exercise has been shown to treat mild depression through the release of endorphins that can improve your mood. Other treatments include cognitive and behavioral therapies that target thinking and behavioral patterns towards positive thoughts and more involvement in activities you enjoy. Treatments for anxiety (and depression as well) include stress and relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. Treatments for these and other mental illnesses also include medications that can be prescribed by a doctor.
To conclude, it’s important to educate yourself and others about mental illness and its symptoms, and, even more important, to remember that mental illness is a real challenge that affects people and is nothing to be ashamed of. Do not be afraid to reach out to friends and loved ones or schedule an appointment with a doctor at any time to discuss mental health. Remember to keep an eye on your fellow graduate students during this stressful time as well, and extend a hand of kindness if you think someone may be going through a tough time.
I wish everyone happiness and peace as we approach the holidays, as well as a successful end to the semester!