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Grad school and mental illness--how do you cope?


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On 2018-02-27 at 2:14 PM, lemma said:

Hey, I have bipolar I and generalized anxiety disorder. I also took time off during my undergrad. I don't have much to add as I'm at the beginning of my program, but posting for solidarity. I recently saw a GP for physical health stuff, and after we spoke about my history he mentioned that a lot of graduate students don't do well with the pressure of a PhD. The advice he gave me was to manage my sleep strictly: block off sleep time and fit everything around that. 

That's excellent advice. I also live with bipolar disorder and a lot of anxiety/depressive symptoms. And I definetly don't compromise sleeping. Otherwise, I just don't function well if I don't get 8+ hours of sleep. I'm really lucky to not struggle with insomnia. 

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  • 1 month later...

I saw this thread back in the day and regret I didn't post anything. This is such an important conversation to have. For my BA and my MSc, I always started my programs really well and then fell apart towards the end. Although I know I had maladaptive behaviors and thoughts, but it didn't really register that I could be mentally ill.

I'm working full-time now and I finally decided to get formal diagnoses. I have generalized anxiety, depression, borderline traits (although not full-blown BPD), and sub-clinical PTSD. I found out last month, and at first, this was completely disorienting to me and made me feel really hopeless about future life adjustment. I have to work with what I have though, so I will just start with where I am and keep moving forward. The diagnoses did provide some clarity though on how I was dealing with things in retrospect.

I am scared that if I am fortunate enough to be admitted to a PhD program, that I might unravel again. There are so many pressures -- but I love learning, studying, and talking with other curious people. I can't imagine anything more fulfilling.

I know that the pressures of a PhD can trigger the onset of mental illness, but I also wonder if it also attracts a certain kind of breed - us intellectual people who are very cerebral and in our heads, with the ability to think, but perhaps think too much. We think and feel deeply, and this is both an assessment and a detriment.

Anyway, thanks to all of you for sharing. I've said before in other threads, but I'm happy to have stumbled upon the community in grad cafe forum. I've had nothing but encouragement and it really helps me to read what other people are dealing with.

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13 hours ago, MindOverMatter said:

I am scared that if I am fortunate enough to be admitted to a PhD program, that I might unravel again. There are so many pressures -- but I love learning, studying, and talking with other curious people. I can't imagine anything more fulfilling.

Go for it! Make sure you have a safety net and are in a supportive program. That might mean sacrificing some prestige to have a program with a good culture and close to your support network.

So many of us have mental illnesses of varying degrees of severity. I was working in my office the other day and there were only three of us in - the other two were talking about their depression and anxiety. Little did they know that 100% of us in at that time had diagnosed mood and anxiety disorders. And I thought a lot of people had mental illness in my undergrad... 

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It's true that departemental culture is a big factor. I'm in Social Work, and it's not a "competitive field" once you're in the program. Plus, most social work students don't decide to pursue careers in academia. The vibe was pretty relax during my undergraduate studies (and even now during my master's). I guess that explains why I cope well in university. If I was in law or medecine, I'm sure it would have been more difficult due to my personality traits (perfectonism, anxiety, etc.) But that doesn't mean that someone with MI shouldn't study in those fields. I just know it would not have been the right fit for me. 

Edited by Adelaide9216
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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/9/2018 at 8:25 AM, waltzforzizi said:

2. How many of you have fellowships? I read that my fellowship includes healthcare...but I'm not too sure what that means. Does it mean they just cover the annual fees? 

At my current university, this is true. If you hold a fellowship, they cover the annual fees for healthcare. But we have really good healthcare, so very few copays and meds are not too expensive. At my last university, this wasn't the case.

Once I got to my new university, I set up time to go to the office for students with disabilities, which has made the transition more smooth.

Edited by jmillar
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I was misdiagnosed as Bipolar 1 W/ Psychotic Features for nearly 6 years. Turns out I have DID...I've found talk therapy to be more beneficial than any medications I've ever had experience with. It turns out, in my experience, connecting with another human being has the potential to be far more powerful than trying to correct your symptoms with drugs. 

I don't regret the last 6 years...As I learned a lot. But it definitely is not easy trying to achieve great things while living with severe mental illness. Hopefully you find peace. I haven't, yet.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 7/28/2018 at 6:14 PM, Achievable said:

I was misdiagnosed as Bipolar 1 W/ Psychotic Features for nearly 6 years. Turns out I have DID...I've found talk therapy to be more beneficial than any medications I've ever had experience with. It turns out, in my experience, connecting with another human being has the potential to be far more powerful than trying to correct your symptoms with drugs. 

I don't regret the last 6 years...As I learned a lot. But it definitely is not easy trying to achieve great things while living with severe mental illness. Hopefully you find peace. I haven't, yet.

Hugs to you.  I was misdiagnosed Bipolar as well, from 2013-2016. Now I have PTSD and MDD.   Law school was a miserable slog. It took me 6 years instead of 3 to complete my JD program, and I faced significant disciplinary issues due to behaviors stemming from my symptoms.  Due to my diagnosis and said disciplinary issues I'm facing hurdles in getting a law license.  Got into a graduate program (deferred to fall 2019) and things are looking up.  

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  • 5 months later...

I just came across this thread and am so thankful that it exists because it is so important and not talked about it enough. I have just finished my first cycle applying to clinical psych PhD programs and it took an exhausting toll on me. I would love to get this thread active again. 

What is the biggest void y’all have seen regarding grad student mental health? What coping/self-care methods have and haven’t worked for you? 

Hopefully we can give this thread some life again! 

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I have a significant mental illness, and it really hurt my work in my first grad program. However, something I did early on that was smart was to set up accommodations with the dean of students. Some semesters I never used these accommodations, but I always knew that I had documentation and the deans backing to get extensions/etc. if I really needed it. I was open with a few professors, but not all. It was a religious school, and the people I opened up to there were very compassionate. 

In my current program, I have chanced not setting up accommodations. This has allowed me to be more discrete about my illness, but if things went down hill, I'd have a lot of explaining to do. My advice is that unless you have been stable for years, find at least the minimum number of people in the administration or in your department to disclose the illness to, before you have an episode or other problem,  so that you are not misleading the department/school and so there are people that can be supportive.  Then you can choose to not bring it up with most people without being misleading.There's no shame in having accommodations set up (extensions/extra test time/etc.) even when you don't plan to use them, and there's no shame in using them if you use them.

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  • 4 weeks later...

It's good to see people talking about this. I am coming out (hopefully) of a serious depressive episode right now. My professors have been incredibly accommodating. The key was talking to them before the assignments were do. I felt myself slipping so talked to a few of them. Worked out alright. 

My best advice is take care of your health (treatment and self-care), be proactive when you are starting to slide (easier said than done), and get a support system. 

Life's hard. Adding grad school on top of that is a lot. 

 

Best of luck, all!

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