Dealing with Depression at Business School

Dealing with Depression at Business School

In a recent YouGov survey, over 25% of all UK students reported having some form of mental health issue. A recent report from the American Psychological Association reported that one in three students have had ‘difficulty functioning’ due to depression in the last year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-34 in the US. Degrees, particularly those at graduate level, can be incredibly stressful, time-demanding and isolating. For many, the pressure becomes too much and the psychological impact it has is severe. 

Business schools, in particular, are associated with a high-stress level. The expense, the time commitment, the extracurricular activities and the competitive nature of MBA programs all contribute to the pressure students face. For international students, depression can sit atop a ream of other issues such as homesickness and culture shock. 

In fact, Harvard Business School found that almost half of all its students had experienced serious depression. While there are services available to help students, it can be difficult for those affected to seek out help. 

There is help available

Universities and business schools have a plethora of services available to students suffering from depression and mental health issues and, in many cases, they’re free. Comprehensive counselling services are often in place, student health and wellbeing being a priority for many institutions. Depending on the institution, everything from talking therapies, medication, animal therapies, physician services and group meditation services can be accessed.

Often during periods of high stress – deadlines, exams and interviews – institutions provide more services than usual and offer advice to students about managing their stress levels. These high-stress periods can see students sleeping less, eating poorly and ceasing to exercise, this is incredibly detrimental as all three of those things have been linked to worsening mental health issues.

Why don’t students reach for help?

For many students, particularly for young men, who seek help substantially less often than women, reaching out for help is exceptionally difficult. People are taught a dangerous and detrimental narrative from birth that seeking out help is a sign of weakness and that we should be able to deal with our problems ourselves. Mental health problems are decidedly difficult to deal with alone and this is made even harder when coupled with a high-pressure degree. The particularly competitive nature of business schools can make this even harder. Students are generally ambitious high achievers, so the idea of seeking out help for a debilitating mental health issue is difficult to accept. As one HBS student put it: “God forbid if anyone ever found out. I was supposed to be strong – a winner. Winners don’t go see psychiatrists or admit that they’re depressed. I felt like a complete failure.”

Dr Andrew Reeves of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (a charity dedicated to helping young people with depression), notes that there’s a significant disconnect between the way we discuss our physical and mental health, and the importance of recognizing when something’s wrong:

“While we all freely talk about our physical health and the things we do to look after ourselves, it seems talking about our mental health is much more difficult. However, paying careful attention to our own wellbeing in a timely manner can be one of the most supportive and proactive steps we can take. Dealing with concerns before they become even bigger problems can help position ourselves to be happier, as well and work and live to our potential.”

It’s much more common than you think

Depression is an isolating experience, particularly for students who are cut off from their families. It can feel as though you’re the only person suffering to this extent, like everyone else is able to fulfil their potential and there’s something ‘wrong’ with you for not taking everything in your stride. This is not the case. At Harvard Business School, the mental health services department sees up to 10% of the student body. It’s estimated that 4% of people globally will experience depression and one in four will be affected by some kind of neurological disorder during their lives – so by no means are these issues rare.

Find a support network and confide in them

A good support network can literally be the difference between life and death. Loneliness is deadlier than smoking or obesity. and the feeling of having no one to confide in can cripple our ability to cope. Friends, family, a partner or a professional team are all people to confide in and lean on when you need to. Those closest to you are also the most likely people to spot if something is going awry with your personality or daily habits. Keeping an eye out for your peers can ensure that any problems are tackled before they turn into major issues.

UK based charity PAPYRUS: Prevention of Young Suicide focusses not only on giving advice to those suffering from depression but the importance of taking care of each other. Simon is one of the charity’s suicide prevention advisors.

“Many students contact us to talk about university being more challenging than they expected – some of whom are experiencing thoughts of suicide due to feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression or struggling to balance work and play. Some of the advice we offer is:

Reach out – to your GP, to your university counselling or wellbeing department. They will be able to offer advice and support with all aspects of student life. They are there for you – whether it’s your first day or your final term.
Talk to people – some people can feel isolated during university - stay connected with people back home – like family and friends, or reach out to services that can help.

Remember – many students will be away from home, perhaps finding it hard to make friends, so you’re not alone experiencing this. If someone looks like they’re struggling, ask them how they are – ask them if they’re having thoughts of suicide – because if so, there is help and there is hope.
Make time – studying can feel overwhelming and we encourage students to take time out for themselves, make time for self-care activities, doing things they enjoy, making time for fun.”

If you’re struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately:

Samaritans (UK): 116 123
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US):1-800-273-8255

Amelia Hopkins
Written by Amelia Hopkins

Amelia Hopkins is a writer for TopMBA, covering the latest news in business and business education. A graduate of the University of Leeds and Yorkshire native, she enjoys reading, travelling and talking incessantly about the countryside.

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