Depression in graduate school: 5 WAYS to cope.

In this blog we present to you some of the steps you can take if you are experiencing depression in graduate school.

We will also discuss the possibility of taking a medical leave of absence from school to recover and how you can take leave for depression.

Depression in graduate school: How to cope.

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Counseling is Key to a Healthy Marriage

Here are some of the things that you can do to take care of your mental health in college due to depression:

  • Seek out professional help
  • Reduce stressors
  • Connect with loved ones
  • Give yourself breaks 
  • Join a support group
  • Consider taking leave

Seek out  professional help

If you have been depressed for more than two weeks and it is impacting your other relationships and your professional life, we advise you to seek out professional help immediately.

You can consider seeking out support from on campus mental health professions as well as get referrals for a professional who is off campus.

Depression is not just low moods, it won’t simply “go away”. There needs to be an active effort to work through your condition as well as pharmacological support that you might need in the case there are neurological causes to your condition. 

Talking to a therapist and engaging with them to understand what is happening to you does not mean that you have failed in life. It simply means that you need help like everyone else and that does not make you any less of a person. 

Your therapist will help you understand what is happening to you, might prescribe you medication if needed, and can help you tap into your own strengths that can help you adapt to challenges, changes, and overcome them.

Inform your professors or mentor

It is important that you let your professors or mentors know that you are struggling with your course work due to depression so that you and your professors could make accommodations related to deadlines. 

It is also important that you are able to set expectations as to what you will be able to keep up with and what you will not be able to do due to your condition so that you and your professors can consider alternate ways to maintain your grades if there is wiggle room. 

Inform your roomates

It is also important to inform your roommate about your condition as well as share your emergency contact with them or vice versa.

Being able to be transparent with people that you see regularly can ease of the struggle of having to maintain your relationships with them when you have depression. 

Set boundaries and expectations with them such as chores, what can be done in the time of emergencies etc. so that there is a sense of support within your own living space. 

Connect with loved ones

Positive relationships are also important for wellbeing. This means that you have to make an effort to connect with your trusted friends and family even when you do not want to. 

Talk to them about how you are feeling, allow them to get you distracted while doing fun things together. Let them provide you company when you do not want to be alone- take effort to reach out to them. 

Allow yourself to feel loved by people who genuinely care for you and seek out new meaning from these positive and healthy relationships. 

Focus On Recovery

In order for you to have the best experience possible, it is important to take the time you need to focus on yourself and your mental health.

So if you get yourself in therapy, make sure that you take the suggestions of your therapist to try out the strategies they mentioned or do the homework they have given.

If you are on medication, make sure that you are honest with yourself as you take the doses instead of missing them or avoiding them. 

Be diligent with your sessions as well and be mindful of any resistance you might be feeling and take courage to discuss it with your therapist. 

Let this time be focused on your health and mental health, throw yourself into the recovery process instead of getting sidetracked with school stress. 

Unplug from college activities

After a day in classes, when you get home from classes and from homework, turn off your notifications from school, your school emails, and set aside your books. 

A digital detox can be helpful so consider spending time away from screens all together. Work from school can be a source of stress, so keep it distant while you take the day to feel more like yourself again. 

At this time, you can consider engaging with activities that allow you to care for yourself- a bubble bath, movie night, listening to your favourite songs, doodling, colouring a mandala etc. 

Taking care of your emotional needs is also important and you can work towards emotional self care after taking care of your physical needs first- eating a healthy meal, exercising, going for a walk etc. 

You can choose to make new changes that help you feel better or healthier like going to the gym, changing your diet to a more healthy one, going for wants. Sometimes change in routines can also be your way of caring for yourself. 

Join a support group

One thing is for certain, you are not alone in your struggle with depression as a graduate school student. 

So, another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of grad students struggling with depression so that you can experience emotional support first hand within these communities and over time learn how to manage your challenges by learning from each other. 

It is possible that people with depression can also struggle with a sense of worthlessness, a feeling that you have nothing of value to offer. 

By joining a group that is open, empathetic, and growing towards healing, you and your experiences can be an excellent sense of support to someone else who is also in their early part of their journey. 

Consider withdrawing from college

If the severity of your symptoms related to depression makes you unable to deal with the demands of your academics or that college itself is aggravating your symptoms, you should consider taking a leave. 

It is advisable for you to seek out a professional to assess your psychological situation and collaborate with the student counsellor or dean of students for a possible leave of absence for you to cope and recover.

You have to remember that taking time off, though helpful, will not magically change your life nor will it heal your depression. 

As part of taking time out, you should also make small changes in your daily routine that can help you cope with the stressors in your life on the days you’re not taking off like taking breaks, eating healthy, paying attention to signs of fatigue and negative thought patterns. 

In order for you to have the best experience possible, it is important to take the time you need to focus on yourself and your mental health recovery.

How to take time off from graduate school for depression?

Most colleges and institutions are prepared for such scenarios where their students have to take leave- for health reasons or family emergencies etc.

It is most probably the case that they should typically have policies regarding student leave for health and illnesses. 

However, it has to be mentioned that leave related to mental health issues could be a debate depending on how the college prioritises mental well being. 

Mental health conditions like depression do fall under the disabilities act for most counties, so it is very likely that they will have policies related to mental health leave.

What you can do if you plan to withdraw from college due to depression. Speaking to the student counsellor or the Dean of students could be the best way to figure out these policies in a way that does not overwhelm you. 

During this conversation with the dean or the student counsellor, you should make it a point to understand the following:

  • Procedural and financial information that may affect your re-enrollment.
  • Finding out the processes involved with the before, during, and after your Leave, as there may be important paperwork, deadlines, and conditions you must satisfy before you may return.
  • Discussing with your professors and counsellor about how you can meet your academic requirements; this will require cooperation and collaboration between you and your teachers.
  • Get the paper works ready, get assessments done by a professional if required, and decide on a timeline to meet your academic deadlines, all of which should be discussed in collaboration with your student counsellor. 
  • Another important option you can consider is in-campus or off-campus treatment which may involve you being a part-time student. To make a decision related to this option and before seeking out any professional help, it is vital that you speak with the student counsellor/ dean of students to work out the policies of the school. 

Conclusion

In this blog we presented to you some of the steps you can take if you are experiencing depression in graduate school.

We also discussed the possibility of taking a medical leave of absence from school to recover and how you can take leave for depression.

FAQ related to Depression in graduate school

How stressful is graduate school?

According to a survey by the American College Health Association, graduate school is quite stressful with about 66% of graduate students experiencing stress due to unique sets of pressures and demands of their academics and their careers. 

What percent of grad students are depressed?

According to Lifescied, 8% of grad students have reported being diagnosed with depression at one point, and 74% reported receiving treatment for depression. 

Is Graduate School unhealthy?

Graduate school is not unhealthy in itself however, the intense stress of their academics and their careers as professional students and researchers can be very stressful for students who are unable to maintain a work and personal life balance. 

Does Graduate School cause mental illness?

It is not that graduate school directly causes mental disorders but rather it is the stress of being a graduate school student that tends to cause psychological distress especially if the student is unable to maintain a healthy balance between their work and their personal life. 

References

Student Instructions For Pursuing A Mental Health Withdrawal. Colonial health Centre. Retrieved on 31st March 2022, https://healthcenter.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs1216/f/MHWD%20Instructions%2C%20ROI%20and%20Self%20Assessment%206%2027%2017%20FINAL.pdf

Withdrawal process allows students time to treat mental health. Retrieved on 31st march 2022. https://dailyillini.com/news-stories/2017/03/06/withdrawal-process-allows-students-time-treat-mental-health/

Withdrawal for Medical/Mental Health Reasons. LCCC. Retrieved on 31st march 2022. https://www.lccc.edu/current-students/student-records-registration/withdrawal-for-medical-mental-health-reasons

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