Nov 132015

Recently, an article on Quartz about the high rate of mental health issues in graduate school and the academy–and its devastating effects–has been making the rounds. The author, Jennifer Walker, cites a 2015 study at UC Berkeley that found 47% of graduate students deal with depression; grad students also deal with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and feelings of isolation (and, while the article doesn’t discuss it, anxiety about finances). If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it here:

Here at the GC, we have some mental health support provided by the Wellness Center in the form of workshops, referrals, academic/dissertation consults, and counseling sessions, and the insurance many of us use, NYSHIP, does have mental health coverage included. Moreover, I’m working on collecting information for this site on sliding-scale therapy and counseling for underinsured students, and students who have had trouble finding mental health providers within our network (please send along, via my email or the contact form, any recommendations). I’d encourage you to take advantage of these resources when you can. However, accessing these resources is not easy for us as students who are both trying to do our own research while often holding down multiple jobs, and the many benefits of living in a vibrant city like New York also come with the real downsides of often feeling even more isolated and alone in our work; we are spread across boroughs, states, and campuses, and it can be difficult to get access to the support systems we need from the GC community, including support from other GC students who are encountering the same struggles and stresses that we are. The problems students have had with getting the benefits they need under ValueOptions/Beacon Health, the MHSA provider under NYSHIP, provides extra unneeded stress and financial burden and deters those who would want to seek out providers, but fear having to deal with insurance. It doesn’t help that stigma against mental illness–and getting help for it–continues to keep people afraid and embarrassed to admit their own suffering and pain.

With that in mind, at the DSC we’d like to try to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and support regarding mental health issues, and a space to talk about what Paul Gilmartin in his podcast (The Mental Illness Happy Hour–check it out!) calls the “battles in our heads.” Please let us know what we can do to help facilitate this at the Graduate Center; we’ll continue to fight for solid mental health insurance coverage for GC students, and to work with the Wellness Center to get them information about what students at the GC need. However, we’d also like to work to reduce stigmas against mental illness and getting help for it: with that in mind, I want to put out a call again for narratives about your own experiences with mental health issues. In the past, I’ve asked for narratives specifically about ValueOptions/insurance experiences, and that would absolutely still be valuable; however, I would like to broaden the call to ask GC students to send any and all stories they have about their experiences and struggles as a student and person. I would define issues with mental health broadly, to mean not just diagnosed mental illnesses, but anything that affects your mental and psychological health and well being; and, I would stress, the other letters in “MHSA” stand for substance abuse, which is something grad students suffer from that remains underdiscussed (and arguably is even more stigmatized). We hope to use these narratives to create some kind of document–digital and/or paper–to share with the GC community, so as to help provoke a larger, GC-wide discussion about mental health issues as well as promote awareness of them. Hearing these stories is important because it also allows us to get a sense of the problems faced not just by grad students generally but by GC students specifically. These submissions can be anonymous (through the contact form on this site) or not (through my email: wellness [at] cunydsc [dot] org); we will also not use your name in your story, whatever document we create, unless you want your name published (feel free, as well, to send advice about what kind of format this document should take). Of course, your stories can also help us to communicate to GC/CUNY admins the resources and support we need as a community. Graduate school is often framed as an isolating and lonely experience, but it doesn’t have to be the norm, nor should it be an accepted fact of grad student life. You are not alone–and you shouldn’t be made to feel that way. Let’s learn from each other– and figure out, facilitate, and advocate for the support structures we need to thrive.

TL;DR: Mental health problems plague grad students, and while there are some resources available at and through the GC, the DSC strives to work on improving access to necessary resources and to create an atmosphere where mental illness is not stigmatized and getting help for it is encouraged. To that end, please, if you are comfortable, send me narratives about your experiences with mental illness, with getting help for mental illness, with dealing with insurance for mental health and substance abuse issues, so that we can share these stories in some kind of pamphlet, article, or digital form that will spread the word about what psychological/mental health issues we face at the GC, and hopefully, reduce stigma surrounding mental illness.

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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.