Mental Health Resources at the Wellness Center, Part 2

Helping Yourself and Others, plus Pitt data

The University places a priority on supporting the mental health of our graduate and professional students. Part I of this article focused on services and updates about the Wellness Center. In Part 2, we provide information about helping yourself and others, as well as relevant Pitt data.

What are the rates of depression and anxiety among graduate and professional students both nationally and at Pitt?

Several recent reports have focused attention on mental health of graduate students, pointing out the high incidence of depression and anxiety among graduate and professional student populations. A study published in Nature Biotechnology in March 2018 indicates that graduate students are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population. Several articles make recommendations for how universities can better support students, including two articles from The Conversation and Inside Higher Ed.

We have one source of data to try to answer this question here at Pitt. In spring of 2017, Pitt participated in the Graduate Student Experience in the Research University (gradSERU) Survey. All Pitt graduate and professional students enrolled for the spring 2017 term were invited to participate in the survey. Almost 40 percent of those invited completed the survey (3,401 students). Of the respondents, 1,123 were PhD students, which is 45 percent of the population of enrolled PhD students on campus. The survey asked about levels of stress and mental health.

  • Overall, 3 of 5 (or 61 percent) of our graduate and professional students reported their current mental health is good or very good. Similarly, 3 of 5 (or 57 percent) of our graduate and professional students indicate their ability to manage stress is good or very good.
  • Looking at the responses of our PhD students only, these responses are only slightly lower: 56 percent report their current mental health is good or very good, and 52 percent say their ability to manage stress is good or very good.
  • Of our PhD students, 92 percent reported their advisor is able to effectively help them.
  • But 1 in 4 (26 percent) of our PhD students reported that interactions with their advisor are stressful, very stressful, and extremely stressful.

These numbers suggest that Pitt is probably comparable to the national surveys including the Nature Biotechnology study referenced above.

What are online mental health screenings and what information do they provide?

A screening tool can be important for identifying potential mental health conditions. Online screenings are quick, anonymous, effective tools to determine whether a graduate student (or a friend) should connect with a therapist. Completing a screening can help determine if recent thoughts or behaviors may be associated with a common, treatable mental health issue. Online screenings cannot be linked to an individual. Students can take a screening anywhere they feel comfortable. It takes only a few minutes to complete a screening and, afterwards, information and next steps will be presented.

The University of Pittsburgh provides graduate students two different online mental health screenings, available here. One is Screening for Mental Health and the other is ULifeline, sponsored by the JED Foundation. Both tools provide results, recommendations, and key resources that students can explore. Students can also review the resources without completing a screening.

Screening tools such as these are primarily informational and are not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling. Students are encouraged to discuss their screening results with a therapist in the University Counseling Center during walk-in hours, which are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

What can I do if I think a fellow graduate student needs to talk to a counselor?

People in distress are usually receptive to another person reaching out with an expression of genuine interest, caring, and concern. Try to find a private place to initiate a conversation. Be respectful of his/her personal space. Speak directly to the student about your concerns. Be specific about the behaviors you have observed that have caused your concern. These include mood swings, not attending class, drastic changes in behavior, drinking too much, crying a lot, withdrawing from friends, statements about suicide, and many others. Clearly stating your observations makes it more difficult for the student to deny that a problem exists and also lets the person know that you care enough to notice. Listen and be supportive. Ask if he or she would like to talk to someone else.

Remember that, except in cases of emergency, it’s the student’s decision whether to accept a suggestion to visit the University Counseling Center. If the student refuses the idea of counseling, it's usually best not to push. Remind the student that the services at the University Counseling Center are free and confidential. 

Does the University Counseling Center offer international graduate students any special services?  

In the spring of 2019, the Counseling Center plans to offer a group for international students to get together and share the challenges they experience in adjusting not only to Pitt but to the U.S. culture. Students share experiences including differences in teaching and learning styles, communication challenges, social uniqueness, how to meet other people, and any other experiences they are having as international students and individuals. View more information about Group Therapy, including how to sign up.  

If an international student is seeking a physician, psychologist, or counselor who speaks their native language, the Wellness Center staff will try to help locate an appropriate professional.

How does the graduate student usage of University Counseling Center services compare to the usage by undergraduates?  

In 2017–2018, graduate students represented 20 percent of all the University Counseling Center clients.

Are graduate students requesting more mental health services from the University Counseling Center as compared to the year before?

Overall, for graduate and undergraduate students combined, the demand for counseling services has increased 23 percent over the past two academic years.

The mental health of our graduate students is important to the University. We are working to provide better information about existing resources and to advocate for new resources where needed. We have been discussing how to better support our master’s and doctoral students with the graduate associate deans in the schools, the graduate program directors, and the faculty who advise PhD students. Advising and department culture impact the mental health of our students.

Additional Information

Start with a screening: See how to make an appointment for counseling.

Crisis and Emergency Help

Location and Hours:
Office of Counseling Center
Nordenberg Hall – Wellness Center
119 University Place
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: 412-648-7930

Monday – Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Monday and Thursday: 5:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
(Evening hours are fall and spring terms only.)

Read Part 3: Additional Resources On and Off Campus »