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Mental health disorders are especially prevalent among graduate students due to the increased stress, imposter syndrome, and glorification of overwork that are pervasive in academia.


Although there are several classifications of mental health disorders, we will start by focusing on the two most common types of mental health difficulties among graduate students - depression and anxiety - which affect nearly 40% of graduate students according to a recent Nature study (Evans et al., 2018).


With increased understanding of these disorders, the right treatment, and support from the PhD Balance community, depression and anxiety can be managed.


You can - and will - thrive in grad school and beyond!

In the first two modules, we’ll cover the common symptoms, facts, associated clinical disorders, demographics, and barriers to care for depression and anxiety. Then, we’ll discuss different types of professional help and therapy options, as well as how to seek the help you might need.


Remember, mental health disorders exist on a continuum and you can benefit from professional help even if you don’t believe your symptoms are “severe enough.”



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Module 1

November 1 - 7, 2020

Quick Facts

  • Approx. 20% of US adults have been diagnosed with an mood disorder in their lifetime

  • Approx. 40% of grad students report significant depressive symptoms (Evans et al., 2018; Rummel et al., 2015)

  • Approx. 20% of grad students have been diagnosed with a mood disorder in their life (Allen et al., 2020; Wyatt & Oswalt, 2012), but this number has increased to at least 32% during COVID (Chirikov et al., 2020)

  • Many people begin to experience depression during adolescence or young adulthood

Symptom Domains

  • Emotional: low mood, lack of interest, excessive guilt, low self-worth, thoughts of self-harm or suicide

  • Cognitive: poor attention, low motivation and productivity

  • Physical: disrupted sleep [too much or too little], dysregulated eating [too much or too little]


Depression can look very different across individuals because of unique symptom profiles

Common Mood Disorders

  • Major Depressive Disorder: episode(s) of significant depressive symptoms that may recur

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: lower intensity depressive symptoms but chronic rather than episodic

  • Bipolar Disorder: episode(s) of extremely energized and elevated or irritable mood states known as mania (or hypomania) that may alternate with depressive episode(s)

  • Cyclothymic Disorder: lower intensity mood fluctuations but chronic rather than episodic

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: mood episodes occur in tandem with seasonal changes

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: mood symptoms are largely circumscribed to the premenstrual period

Demographics & Barriers to Care

  • Although the prevalence of depression is greater for White than non-White individuals within the US (Bailey et al., 2019), the non-White experience of depression is often more severe, chronic, and functionally disabling, possibly due to differences in reporting, clinician bias (Whaley, 1997), cultural identity (Williams et al., 2012), or higher positive emotions such as hope (Lankarni & Assari, 2017)

  • Discrimination, stressful life events, and household income all increase risk for depression

  • Disparities in treatment may include a higher likelihood of consulting a primary care doctor rather than psychiatrist, cultural and linguistic differences, affordability of treatment resources, and systemic racism in medicine.

Module 3 will discuss ways to overcome these barriers.


Module 2

November 8 - 14, 2020

Common Mood Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): persistent and exaggerated worry across several aspects of life (e.g., academics/occupation, finances, social/family)

    • May include headaches, restlessness, tension, or nausea
      Social Anxiety: social interaction evokes intense fear


  • Panic Disorder: immediate feelings of terror and physiological symptoms that can occur suddenly 

    • Chest pain, heart palpitations, and dizziness are among common symptoms

  • Specific Phobias: strong avoidance of certain places or things that evoke intense panic and fear

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): repetitive thoughts and/or behaviors often tied to anxious arousal, but are separate from other anxiety disorders

Demographics & Barriers to Care

  • In the US, anxiety disorders are most prevalent among White individuals & lowest among Asian Americans.

  • Black individuals have the highest prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder compared to all other groups, which is a condition related to anxiety but not classified as an anxiety disorder (Asnaani et al., 2010).

  • Discrimination, high stress, trauma exposure, & financial insecurity are risk factors for anxiety disorders (Kann et al., 2014)

  • Disparities in treatment include lack of culturally competent providers and providers of color, stigma of mental illness, preconceived beliefs of medication, affordability of & access to care including transportation issues (Zvolensky et al., 2017).


Module 3 will discuss ways to overcome these barriers.

Quick Facts

  • Approx. 20-30% of US adults have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime

  • Approx. 40-50% of graduate students report significant anxiety symptoms (Evans et al., 2018; Rummel et al., 2015)

  • Approx. 20% of graduate students have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime (Allen et al., 2020), but this number has increased to at least 39% during COVID (Chirikov et al., 2020)

  • Many people begin to experience anxiety by age 21

Symptom Domains

  • Emotional: increased irritability, distress or fear in specific situations

  • Cognitive: persistent worry, poor attention, thoughts about being negatively evaluated, preoccupation or repetitive thoughts

  • Physical: restlessness, increased heart rate, chest tightness, sweating, shakiness, disrupted sleep


Module 3

November 15 - 21, 2020

Recognizing Your Need

As we touched on in October’s module on mental health self-evaluation, mental health distress can look different for everyone.


While the best person to diagnose a mental health illness is a trained specialist, there are signs you can look for to help determine whether you need to seek professional help. 

Common symptoms: isolation, extreme mood changes, and excessive worrying 

Other signs: lack of joy, loss of sleep/appetite, withdrawal from friends and activities, and inability to concentrate

Sources: Mayo Clinic and National Alliance of Mental Illness

Types of Professional Help

Professional help isn’t just limited to seeing a therapist.


Check out the below word cloud to see the plethora of forms of assistance, like prescription medication, a dietician, and a psychiatrist. 

WordCloud_Professional Help 2.png

Did you know there are multiple differences between a psychologist, psychiatrist and counselor, including the services they provide and the education they have? For more information, check out these two websites that detail the differences between these similar providers. 

Barriers to Professional Help

As we touched on in October, there are a number of barriers to seeking professional help.


Thankfully, most of these barriers have solutions you can easily implement to help you get the care you need!

Nov Mod 3 - barrier to help.png

Finding the Right Fit

Once you’ve identified that you might benefit from seeing a professional, the next step is finding the right fit for you.


Whether you’re seeking a therapist or medical doctor, consider the following aspects or qualities of a professional, though know that this list is just a starting point for factors to consider:

  • Financial cost (out-of-pocket vs insurance)

  • Location 

  • Personality

  • Training/credentials

  • Relatedness/identity 

There are many ways to find a provider, including Google searches, word-of-mouth, online databases like Psychology Today, or through your university’s campus health.


Don’t feel the need to “stick” with the first provider you see - this will potentially be a person you will be seeking treatment and guidance from on a regular basis, so ensure that you mesh well and feel like they will have a positive benefit on your life!


Module 4

November 29 - December 5, 2020

Types of Treatment

With all the different types of treatments available, deciding which treatment modality to pursue can be a challenge. Read this article from Psychology Today for tips on how to find your right match, and check out the table below for a list of different types of treatments these professionals might offer. 

Nov Mod 4 - treatments
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