Half Of All PhD Students Suffer From Psychological Distress

One-in-three are at risk from developing a mental illness. The Nice LifePic/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 30 Mar 2017, 13:30

It’s distressing that depression is noted as being the most common disorder among PhD students. Worldwide, 350 million people suffer from depression and 800,000 people each year take their own lives as a result of it being left untreated.

It’s been estimated that 83 percent of people will experience a mental disorder in their lifetimes, which means that it’s actually, sadly, “normal” to be a sufferer in this case. Some groups of people are more likely than others to experience it, however – particularly women, for a variety of reasons.

All in all, then, this body of work suggests that women studying for a PhD are more likely than most to suffer from depression. There is a particularly harrowing piece on Quartz highlighting this problem, one that desperately needs to be talked about a lot more.

“The days I spent pursuing my PhD in physics were some of my darkest,” the author recalls. “It wasn’t the intellectual challenges or the workload that brought me down; it was my deteriorating mental health."

Depression explained. World Health Organization via YouTube

People pursue PhDs for an unfathomably large number of reasons. Most love the subject they are studying above all else, others wish to travel more, and some wish to start a rather unique form of intellectual adventure.

Successfully gaining a doctorate is exhilarating, for sure, but this enormous psychological cost demands to be addressed seriously and comprehensively. It is a dark shadow that needs illumination – otherwise thousands more will be enveloped by it.

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