Xander de Vries

The prevailing attitude among both advisors and students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is that if you’re not depressed during your doctoral program, you don’t deserve a degree, said Chair of the Graduate Student Assembly Wendy Xiao GRD ’18 MED ’18.

Now, the assembly is hoping to change that culture through a project designed to promote mental health and wellness among graduate students, among other initiatives.

The assembly is currently in the first phase of its Mental Health Focus Group Project, which it designed and proposed to Yale in 2015 to explore mental health and wellness issues among graduate students, identify key areas of poor mental health and wellness in each Graduate School of Arts and Sciences division, and develop strategies for improvement, according to Susan Pratt GRD ’18, chair of the graduate assembly’s Facilities and Health Committee.

One of the 12 recipients of the University-sponsored Wellness Project’s student wellness grants in 2015, the assembly hosted six focus groups with graduate students — two for each division of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — to discuss mental health and wellness on campus. Once the four-person project committee finishes analyzing the transcripts of these group sessions, Pratt said, it will distribute a survey to graduate students, the second phase of the project. Using the results from the survey and the focus groups, Pratt’s committee will create a report outlining its findings listing recommendations for the University. Xiao said the graduate assembly hopes to complete the focus groups analysis this spring, write up the survey over the summer and disseminate it in the fall.

“Some students feel isolated as they progress in their studies. For some, there is a feeling that they are expected to work all of the time, which leads them to the impression that they cannot really have lives outside of their research and teaching,” Pratt said. “We hope that this will allow us and Yale to develop a better picture of the current status of mental health and wellness for graduate students so that we can develop optimal plans to improve access to mental health resources.”

According to Pratt, the graduate assembly identified mental health and wellness as high-priority areas after hearing frequent concerns from students about problems with mental health resources at Yale — such as long wait times at Yale’s Mental Health and Counseling center — and noticing a rise in the number of graduate students seeking help with mental health issues.

In addition to the Mental Health Focus Group Project, the graduate assembly published a 2016 Mental Health and Wellness report in conjunction with the Graduate and Professional School Senate and co-sponsored “DeStress Fest” with The Wellness Project to bring stress relief to students, especially those on Science Hill.

Although Pratt said the University could do more to promote mental health among graduate students, she acknowledged that Yale’s efforts to promote student wellness helped make the assembly’s project possible. And she said she wants to continue to work on the project before making suggestions for improvements.

Adelaide Feibel | adelaide.feibel@yale.edu