International graduate students desperate for help

Improving mental health is priority of graduate students seeking care, requesting services

GAYATHRI KRISHNAMOORTHY, Evergreen columnist

A 2018 survey published by the journal Nature of over 2,200 graduate students across numerous countries, institutions and fields of study shows that “graduate students are over six times more likely to experience mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, compared to the general population.”

At WSU, 55 percent of graduate students have reported experiencing anxiety, and 48 percent have reported experiencing depression, according to a 2020 graduate student health brief by WSU.

This is alarming evidence for the lack of mental health well-being in graduate schools. However, as a graduate student myself, I am not surprised by this number. 

The structure of graduate school, especially doctoral programs, is set in a way to induce more pressure than needed in all forms. 

Doctoral degrees are really taxing as students are expected to take classes, teach, do ground-breaking research, publish, write their dissertations and apply for internships and jobs, all in the span of 5-6 years with meager financial compensation.

Students are going to great lengths to earn a graduate degree. Nearly 40 percent of graduate students are studying away from their home country, according to a report by the council of graduate schools.

As international graduate students, additional factors like isolation, second-language anxiety, lack of family relationships and financial burdens can exacerbate their mental health conditions. 

Recently, at WSU, many graduate students have come forward to discuss the critical need for mental health support. 

In the past 12 months, nearly 83 percent of international graduate students have used the Campus Counseling and Psychological Services, according to the health brief.

Both domestic and international graduate students are offered counseling services through their graduate student insurance.

WSU’s focus on providing internships for psychology majors in CAPS should not be the priority of Cougar Health Services’ therapy resources. The mental health of graduate students (and undergraduate students) is a serious concern and should be handled with care — not as a learning opportunity.

The campus also needs to improve its resources and facilities. Increased awareness about graduate mental health programs and having enough clinical/therapy staff to handle students’ issues should only be the first steps. 

“Recently, I have been seeking therapy again, but this time I’m more interested in looking for an Indian therapist because someone who understands my personal background would be better,” said Kartik Sreedhar, fifth-year doctoral student in the physics department.

However, Sreedhar said graduate student insurance providers will not cover any services from outside WSU counseling services.

It looks like the choices are really limited with CAPS. Students are either assigned an intern or do not have the ability to choose from a pool of therapists. 

This situation should change. It is important students feel comfortable with the therapists they are seeing, and they should have the option of choosing one themselves.

As someone who has availed counseling services from WSU, I feel like there are so many limitations with the current graduate student insurance providers. 

Specifically, we are limited to a specific number of sessions per semester (currently it’s 10-12 sessions).  

“Mental health issues are different for everyone, for some it might take only two sessions and for some it might take more than a year; WSU should accommodate everyone’s needs,” Sreedhar said.

This is a call for action. WSU should recognize and prioritize prevention-based measures focusing on education about mental health care, reducing the stigma associated with graduate school, recognizing the diversity in graduate students’ mental health needs and providing services tailored to their individual needs.