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Importance of Graduate Student Community for Managing Mental Health Struggles in the Pandemic Era

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            Managing one’s mental health is already incredibly difficult during graduate school in non-pandemic times. Balancing reading, lab work, research, writing, alongside teaching responsibilities, publishing, and conference presentation is so stressful that many students find themselves overwhelmed at some point of their academic training. Taking the time to look after your physical and mental health often takes a backseat under these conditions. When pandemic stress factors in, from fears of illness, delays in research to monetary setbacks, dozens of other concerns are amplified. These worries often take a serious toll on our already threadbare mental health. Many graduate students find themselves in a position of extreme uncertainty as pandemic limitations impact thesis writing and even prevent finishing and graduating from their program.

            Though this pandemic is largely unprecedented for modern graduate students, there is still important wisdom we can glean from those that came before us. Upper year and graduated students have been forced to repeatedly renegotiate the terrain of their mental health, and often have positive advice to share. Many also can help just by acknowledging that they have gone through similar stressors, and that you are not alone in your struggles. There are also strategies for finding a balance between being ‘on’ in work mode, and then separating oneself from work completely in the ‘off’ periods. Going outside for walks, going to the gym, playing with pets or visiting friends are all ways in which one can take the time to manage mood. There are plenty of difference methods, but the one thing that all can agree on is that students absolutely must make their mental health a priority.

            Some of these strategies do not work during the pandemic – it is difficult to visit friends when there are physical gathering limitations, and the winter weather prevents outdoor socialization spaces. But mental health struggles have greatly increased for graduate students. Now more than ever it is essential for people to utilize the mental health services provided by the university and the community. And we must share our struggles and concerns with each other to fight the stigma of silence when it comes to mental illness. We are all struggling under these pandemic conditions, so check in on your fellow students, and remind them that there is no shame in struggle. Graduate students are a strong community which cares about each other, and it is important for the community to check in on our peers to help with their daily struggles. 

Student wellness Services website – https://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/

Empower Me – https://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/empower-me

Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) – https://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/tao

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