How Support Groups Can Help You Through The Stress of Grad School

Raise your hand if you’ve experienced increased depression, anxiety, or relationship problems while in grad school. 👋

Everyone’s (virtual) hands just went up, right? I know mine did! It’s not a coincidence that I first started to develop migraine headaches during graduate school. I completed my PhD in 2017, and looking back, I wish I had resources like PhD Balance to help navigate the experience.

After my postdoc, I took a career pivot and ended up going into industry-- a far cry from the academic research career I had envisioned when I started my PhD program (I wish someone had told me earlier that I shouldn’t go into academia if I hate writing papers!). I’m now with a company called Sesh, and I couldn’t be more excited to offer our online support group services as another mental health resource to the graduate student community.

Graduate school can be a grueling process, and the literature shows that graduate students have high rates of mental health issues1. Graduate students of color often have to navigate institutional and interpersonal racism on top of all the other academic stress they’re dealing with, which can make school an even more difficult experience2. With us now over a year into a global pandemic, and with ongoing racial justice uprisings, counseling centers on campuses are overwhelmed. We can assume that many graduate students could benefit from additional support.

Oftentimes, peer support helps students get through the academic and mental hurdles of graduate school. It can be such a relief to know that other students are experiencing the same overwhelm, stress, or unhealthy coping mechanisms at some point that you are, too. And the catharsis of telling your friends about the latest interaction with your advisor, the ridiculous undergraduate student questions you had to field as a TA, or the project you’re stuck on can make the journey bearable.

But there’s a limit to the role that friends can play in managing your mental health. Sometimes it’s not only helpful, but important, to get the perspective of people outside of your program (outside of the graduate school realm entirely!), or to have the opportunity to connect with other people with a similar identity. That’s where Sesh comes in: it’s a confidential, online

support group platform with a diverse range of session topics, and even better, all the groups Sesh provides are led by a licensed mental-health therapist. With groups like “Moving Towards Self-Compassion,” “Navigating Life’s Stressors,” “Soul Food: Art for Self-Expression & Healing (BIPOC)” and “Connection and Expression: LGBTQIA+ Support,” Sesh offers a variety of groups (and when you join your access to them is unlimited) so that the right fit can be found by anyone.

People who attend support groups not only get the benefit of receiving support, but also giving support to others, something that can help to take us out of self-focused mental loops. And with licensed therapists as facilitators, you can rest assured that when you try Sesh you’ll walk away from each group with a new insight, coping strategy, or goal. Support groups can be an adjunct to individual therapy, or a standalone source of support, depending on your needs.

Sesh is affordable after the one-month free trial expires, too. If you decide to continue, you can get unlimited access to groups for $60/month.

I hope you’ll take advantage of the free trial and attend a Sesh support group with the code: PHDBALANCE. You just might see a group titled “Breaking Free of Academia” on there led by yours truly. (I’m kidding….mostly!)

~Hannah Weisman, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist

VP of Clinical Operations


1 Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, B. J., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, 36, 282–284. doi: 10.1038/nbt.4089

2 Brunsma, D. L., Embrick, D. G., & Shin, J. H. (2017). Graduate students of color: Race, racism, and mentoring in the white waters of academia. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3(1), 1-13. doi: 10.1177/2332649216681565