What is Thesis depression?

In this blog we will discuss what thesis depression is. 

We will also discuss what causes it and how you can cope and prevent thesis depression. 

What is Thesis depression?

Thesis depression refers to the bouts of depression or depressive episodes that an academic scholar or student goes through when they are working on their thesis or their dissertation. 

It is a fairly common experience amongst PhD and Master scholars. A recent report by Tilburg University observed that the greater part of the doctoral/ master’s student surveyed showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

Another review by the University of Minnesota observed that 53% of graduates announced feeling discouraged no less than once during their program and often reported symptoms of depression. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a leading publication used for diagnosis of mental disorders by mental health professionals, Major depressive disorder or depression is a serious mood disorder.

Depression is a  serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Clinical depression can make it very difficult for the individual to carry out their day to day tasks, maintain their relationships, and manage their occupational responsibilities

Apart from these emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • fatigue or lack of energy
  • feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-hate
  • social isolation
  • a loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • that used to be pleasurable
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • dramatic changes in appetite along with
  • corresponding weight gain or loss
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Much of what causes depression amongst PhD or Masters students tends to be due to stress, burnout, and self doubt caused by the pressure to complete the thesis, defend it, and be successful at it. 

Some of the common signs of thesis depression include:

  • Feeling listless
  • Having a monotonous schedule with no excitement
  • Lack of sleep and insomnia
  • Inability to make meaningful progress made in your thesis and research. 
  • Low mood
  • Too much piled up work
  • Negativity and self doubt
  • Social isolation from friends
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unable to write or work on the content of your dissertation. 

Why causes thesis depression in PhD students?

Some of the causes of depression in thesis PhD students are as follows:

High levels of stress

Thesis depression can be caused when you are unable to cope with the stress in your life because stress has a variety of mental and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms include: insomnia,  trouble sleeping, excessive sleep, and changes in appetite and eating habits. 

Being in a state of continuous stress with these symptoms can lead to deteriorating health, continued low moods, decrease in productivity which can impact your occupational life and also cause strain in your relationships. 

These negative impacts can lead to feelings of hopelessness, dread, doom, and also feelings of worthlessness and the sense that one is a failure in their ability to cope with life all of which can be internalised, leading to developing depression and anxiety. 

Due to the heavy workload PhD students find it difficult to take out time for themselves. The students are not able to take our time for any other activities or hobbies that make them happy and act as a breather for them.

Burn out

One of the main reasons for depression is burnout anxiety and chronic fatigue that the students face due to the highly competitive and suffocating environment

Due to the heavy workload, assignments and never-ending syllabus, the students find it difficult to take out time for themselves. The students are not able to take our time for any other activities or hobbies that make them happy and act as a breather for them. This can lead to burn out and emotional fatigue..

Self doubt

Some students struggle with low self esteem which causes one to self-doubt, anxiety leading to worry and stress, depression due to a deep sense of worthlessness and low self esteem, as well as fears related to perfectionism leading to negative rumination.

Over-thinking is not a mental disorder however it is closely related to mental disorders- it can either be a symptom of a mental disorder or it can also be one of the causes of mental disorders when negative rumination is done mindlessly. People who overthink about themselves tend to struggle with anxiety as well as depression. 

Lack of Balance

Many PhD students are often trapped in a cycle of continued work, research, writing, and back to work. This often leads them to forsake their social life and neglect their own selves. 

This lack of balance between work and play often leads to burnout and eventually depression in students who are trying to complete their thesis. 

How to prevent thesis depression and manage your mental health?

Here are a few things you can do to prevent thesis depression and manage your mental health:

Plan out your thesis

The best thing you can do for yourself to prevent thesis depression is to plan out your thesis in such a way that you are not overloaded with work. 

This can be done by breaking up your thesis into manageable chunks. Setting goals will help you do this: try setting one goal per week that will help you complete another chunk of your thesis.

Create small goals for yourself. If you’re working on a big project on your own, it can feel overwhelming trying to get it all done on time. But giving yourself smaller tasks will help you feel like you’re making progress.

Take Breaks

 Don’t be afraid to take breaks. It’s easy to get caught up in the work and keep going until it seems like there’s nothing left but exhaustion ahead but don’t push yourself too hard! You’ll only end up feeling worse if your brain gets fried from overwork. 

If possible, take a day off from working on your thesis every week so that you don’t get overwhelmed by its scope. You can also plan out your schedule in such a way that you can plan a weekend getaway with your friends for an extended break. 

Spend time with friends

Once you feel like you are up for it, take time to seek out support from your friends, family, and loved ones. Positive relationships are also important for wellbeing. 

Talk to them about how you are feeling, allow them to get 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. 

Actively seek positive experiences

According to positive psychology research, positive feelings are an important aspect of well-being. For a person to engage in activities and other experiences that help them feel positive feelings such as love, belongingness, achievement, and a sense of hope is important.

This could be as simple as watching a movie, petting your cat, taking your dog for a walk, eating ice cream. Do what makes you happy without judging yourself for these choices.

Focus on self-care

Taking care of your physical needs is very important as it is a way to care for yourself. 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. 

Connect with loved ones and 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. 

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. 

 Seek out  professional help

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.

Join a support group

Another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of people 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. 

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. 


In this blog we have discussed what thesis depression is. 

We have also discussed what causes it and how you can cope and prevent thesis depression. 

FAQ related to thesis depression

Can depression prevent you from studying?

Yes, depression can get in the way of you ability to focus, concentrate, and pay attention which can ultimately impact your ability to learn new information and prevent your from studying. 

Why am I procrastinating with my dissertation?

Most probably you are procrastinating because you are anxious due to lack of support, low self esteem, self doubt, difficulty setting priorities as well as you are struggling to deal with the challenges of working from home such as home responsibilities, children, and distraction. 

Why are college students vulnerable to depression?

The stress of being a graduate school student tends to cause psychological distress especially if the student is unable to maintain a healthy balance between their work and their personal life. 

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. 


PhD Depression: writing your dissertation makes you depressed. Retrieved on 22, April 2022 https://blog.r3ciprocity.com/thesis-depression-how-to-prevent-depression-when-writing-your-dissertation/?nab=1&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bing.com%2F

Eleftheriades, R., Fiala, C., & Pasic, M. D. (2020). The challenges and mental health issues of academic trainees. F1000Research, 9, 104. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.21066.1

Liu, C., Wang, L., Qi, R., Wang, W., Jia, S., Shang, D., Shao, Y., Yu, M., Zhu, X., Yan, S., Chang, Q., & Zhao, Y. (2019). Prevalence and associated factors of depression and anxiety among doctoral students: the mediating effect of mentoring relationships on the association between research self-efficacy and depression/anxiety. Psychology research and behavior management, 12, 195–208. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S195131

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