mental health

The Ultimate List of Mental Health Studies on PhD Students

Last updated: November 2018

There is an excessive amount of anecdotal evidence on the internet in terms of PhD students experiencing mental health issues.

Fortunately, this area has been receiving more and more attention and studies have been conducted to strive for a more systematic view of what exactly is happening.

I tried to find online a good, updated list of studies involving PhD students on mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, but couldn’t find anything centralised so I’ve decided to create a list of mental health studies on PhD students, which I plan to keep updated.

If you think a relevant study is missing on this page, please contact me and I will add it below.

Worldwide Studies on PhD Students

Study Description
Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education

Evans et al., Nature Biotechnology, 03/2018

Online survey involved 2279 responses, mostly from PhDs from around 234 institutions covering 26 countries, 40% of them being in biological and physical sciences and engineering.
Found “strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression”.
39% of those who replied showed moderate to severe depression
41% moderate to severe anxiety, both of which are more than six times higher than the rates found in the general population.
Half of the respondents with anxiety and depression reported not having supportive relationships with their supervisors.
More than half the of the students with anxiety and depression expressed not having a good work-life balance.
Graduate survey: A love–hurt relationship

Woolston, Nature, 10/2017

Survey of about 5700 PhD students worldwide.
Although three-quarters of respondents were at least somewhat satisfied with the decision to start a PhD, more than a quarter regarded mental health as an area of concern.
12% have previously sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD studies.

European Studies on PhD Students

Study Description
Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students

Levecque et al., Research Policy, 05/2017

3659 PhDs at universities in Flanders, Belgium participated in the study.
A third of respondents were at risk of developing or having a common psychiatric disorder such as depression.
41% of PhD students reported feeling under constant strain.
30% said they felt unhappy and depressed.
28% said they have sleeping problems due to worries.
Forty per cent of PhDs at Exeter suffer ill health, study reveals

Else, Times Higher Education, 04/2015

Survey at the University of Exeter, UK.
Study found that about 40% of PhD students believed that doing a PhD had made their physical and mental health worse.
Three-quarters of respondents said that “time is a constant pressure” and two-thirds said they felt guilty when they took time out from their studies.
Swedish Doctoral Students’ Experiences on their Journey towards a PhD: Obstacles and opportunities inside and outside the academic building

Appel and Dahlgren, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 2003

Study involved 278 PhD students at Umeå University in Sweden.
90% of the students surveyed admitted to “thinking about work” after hours or during weekends.
The authors explain: “A number of the doctoral students said that they felt that their research was always hanging over them and giving them a guilty conscience…that ‘never being totally free’ was difficult.”
The Times Higher Education discusses this study in the article Smart people problems: we need to talk about PhD mental health.

US Studies on PhD Students

Study Description
Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report

The Graduate Assembly, University of California, Berkeley, 2014

The study reported high levels of depression among 790 postgraduate students, with almost half (47%) of PhD students fulfilling the criteria to be classified as depressed.
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