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7 Tips for Managing Your Mental Health in Grad School

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I started graduate school this past semester. I am super excited to be a part of the master’s school psychology cohort! My mental health struggles had a major impact on my undergraduate education, so I have been worried about graduate school. However, the first year went very well! I have been super busy trying to absorb everything I need to learn.

I’ve seen that mental health in graduate school is increasingly getting attention. That makes me super excited for the future. I would love to contribute to these efforts!

On that note, I’m sharing a few tips for incoming, future, or current graduate students who struggle with mental health:

1. Before the year starts, get any necessary accommodations paperwork sorted out.

Maybe you are not sure that you will need accommodations. However, if this is something that has come up in the past (needing extensions for deadlines, needing extra time for exams, etc.), it is good to come into the program prepared. Check out the disability services office at your university. The requirements may include a note or filled out documentation from your provider (e.g., psychiatrist, therapist). The process may take weeks, so look into it early. You may need to work together to adequately fill these forms out. Advocate for yourself!

2. Ease into the semester.

It may be tempting to sign up for absolutely every opportunity (volunteering, leadership, research, etc.). However, it is better to ease into the semester. Even if things don’t seem that challenging at the beginning, assignments tend to pile up during midterms and finals. You don’t want various roles to become overwhelming and get in the way of your classes!

3. Adjust to the move.

Graduate school is a major adjustment! You may be moving to a completely new city, state, or country. Maybe you are not familiar with your setting. You might not have a support network when you first move. That can all be emotionally taxing. Your cohort mates are likely also overwhelmed. This is a great time to connect to others. Bond through your classes. Work together on assignments. Create times to socialize. Graduate school is much better with a support system in place. Your cohort is the perfect place to start!

4. Establish care early.

You might want to establish care at the student health services center on campus or at another local clinic/office. You want to make sure that there is a continuation of services; for example, you don’t want to run out of psych meds! Sometimes campus resources are limited, so it is good to look into this ASAP. Resources like counseling and psychological services tend to get overbooked during finals week, for example. Make sure that you have access to treatment when you need it. Get that established while you are stable. Getting a provider and setting appointments while you are unwell is often incredibly challenging.

5. Shift your academic approach.

The academic content is different. It is no longer a case of cramming information, doing the exam, and forgetting what you learned. This is information that you actually need for your future career, not a random general education credit that you took for fun! A lot of the coursework builds on top of each other. Also, your classes are likely much smaller than your undergrad ones; therefore, you may be more involved during the class. It is more likely to feel like a group discussion than a lecture. This requires you to be engaged (and actually do your readings)!

6. Be prepared to juggle multiple roles.

You will likely be juggling academic courses along with work (e.g., graduate assistantship), teaching, research, practicum, and/or internships. This might be very different from your undergraduate experience. Each role may push you in new ways. Get organized to keep track of everything! I found it helpful to use a physical planner, but I know a lot of people like digital planners or online tools like Trello for example.

7. Ensure that you have a work-life balance.

I understand graduate school can become overwhelming. I recommend scheduling something for fun, like a social event. You need something to look forward to during tough times! If you overlook the “life” part, you can easily burn out. Take care of yourself!

Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comments below!

Getty image by Pekic

Originally published: July 2, 2022
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