Unique Mental Health Needs of Graduate Students

Graduate students have many stressors. For example, graduate students often have the equivalent of two full-time jobs, one for which they do not get paid. The initial excitement of pursuing graduate studies is often replaced with stress and anxiety once the student realizes the impact of the scholastic workload.

According to a recent article in The Cronicle, , almost 750 graduate students sought help from the 24 hour National Graduate Student Crisis Line (1-800-GRAD-HLP) between January and June. Issues reported by students included feeling overwhelmed with work and school responsibility, being overloaded with work from advisors, and being sick with no health insurance.

Unique Needs of Graduate Students

It’s not just the coursework that causes stress for graduate students. Graduate students have unique needs that aren’t always addressed by services available to undergraduates:

  1. Many graduate students are returning after many years away from the academic environment. Therefore, they have to redevelop study habits.
  2. Many graduate students are supporting families as well as balancing coursework. They often work regular business hours, limiting their access to campus to after 5pm. At times, this can cause both scheduling and logistical difficulty.
  3. Some graduate students have been out in the workforce, but some matriculate directly from their undergraduate studies, creating a mix of students with differing attitudes and needs. Professors may not be able to effectively meet both sets of needs.
  4. Particularly at the doctoral level, graduate students often have similar responsibilities as faculty, yet they do not have the same support. Further, faculty sometimes takes advantage of graduate students who have assistantships by either overworking them or giving them menial tasks.

Why Graduate Students Are Reluctant to Ask For Help, but Why They Should

According to the article, graduate students in particular are reluctant to ask for help because they are accustomed to operating at high levels of performance. In short, graduate students are loath to show weakness. Another concern is visibility. Because university counseling centers are on campus, you are more likely to encounter a fellow student or instructor as you enter or exit. But remember what you are going to tell your future clients: asking for help actually takes courage, and so it is actually a sign of strength. And that sometimes in life things can become overwhelming due to circumstances beyond our control, and that you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. What is good advice for our clients is equally good for us. Furthermore, experiencing the counseling relationship as a client is important as it helps us to better understand what it feels like to trust a stranger with our most intimate thoughts.

Where to Find Help?

Most universities have a counseling center that provides free counseling. Unfortunately, because graduate students are smaller in number, and aren’t usually as present on campus as their undergraduate counterparts, often graduate students are often unaware of the services available. So, if you are currently enrolled in a graduate program I encourage you to investigate what mental health services are available and use them as needed. If you aren’t sure, it’s better to err on the side of seeking help. However, if you are currently attending an on-line university you may find that on-campus services are limited. In that case, you may need to search for a local counselor. Some counselors provide low-cost counseling to full-time students. Lastly, if you are in crisis, and unable to find help quickly, try the crisis line at 1-800-GRAD-HLP.

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Barbara LoFrisco


Besides a new site design and other cool features like professional interviews, videos, and informative articles, Masters In Counseling.org also serves counseling students and new counselors by bringing on Dr. Barb LoFrisco, a licensed counselor to blog for the site! Dr. LoFrisco holds a doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a master’s degree in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling from the University of South Florida. She is also a licensed mental health counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, and certified sex therapist. Currently, she helps individuals and couples with anxiety, depression, relationship and sexual issues in her private practice in the Tampa, FL area. She is interested in social media, and one of her publications is an article in Career Development Quarterly on how university career centers are utilizing social media.

At Masters In Counseling.org, Barbara writes about counseling education as well as career and study advice. The blog aims to serve both counseling students and early-career counselors. If you have any topics you’d like to see Barbara blog about, please let us know! You can email us at [email protected] Or, leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter!