Mental Health and Suicidal Behavior Among Graduate Students

Abstract

Objective

The objective of this paper is to describe the mental health and service utilization of graduate students at a large southeastern university and identify psychological factors associated with their student suicidal behavior.

Methods

E-mail invitations to complete the Interactive Screening Program, an online anonymous mental health questionnaire, were sent to graduate students. The questionnaire included the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) as well as items assessing suicide behavior, anxiety, negative emotion, substance use, eating behavior, and service utilization.

Results

A total of 301 graduate students responded to the questionnaires between 14 July 2010 and 24 January 2012. With regards to suicide, 7.3 % of the sample reported thoughts of suicide, 2.3 % reported having plans for suicide, and 1.7 % had hurt themselves in the past 2 weeks; while 9.9 % had ever made a suicide attempt in their lifetime. Graduate students had PHQ-9 scores indicating mild depression, and more than half endorsed feeling nervous, irritable, stressed, anxious, lonely, or having fights/arguments. In terms of service utilization, 22.2 % of the sample was currently taking some type of medication, and 18.5 % currently in counseling/therapy are females and those with higher PHQ-9 scores more likely to be using services. Those endorsing suicidal behavior in the past 2 weeks had significantly higher depression scores than those without such behavior and were characterized by more anxiety, negative emotions (such as loneliness, anger, hopelessness, desperation, and being out of control), substance use, and eating problems.

Conclusions

Graduate students experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety, and their suicidal behavior is strongly characterized by depression, hopelessness, desperation, lack of control, and eating problems. Future work with this population should focus on the development and evaluation of mental health and wellness interventions and on ways to promote help-seeking, especially among male students.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Campus Suicide Prevention Grant Program—Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration entitled “Positively transforming Emory’s diverse culture: Reducing stigma and promoting a community of caring—EMORY CARES 4 U” (1U79M058941-01) awarded to the last author.

Disclosure

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Nadine J. Kaslow.

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Garcia-Williams, A.G., Moffitt, L. & Kaslow, N.J. Mental Health and Suicidal Behavior Among Graduate Students. Acad Psychiatry 38, 554–560 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-014-0041-y

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Keywords

  • Graduate students
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Patient Health Questionnaire