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Mental Health Dissertation Topics

Published by Carmen Troy at January 9th, 2023 , Revised On August 16, 2023


You probably found your way here looking for mental health topics for your final year research project. Look no further, we have drafted a list of issues, and their research aims to help you when you are brainstorming for dissertation or thesis topics on mental health in 2020.

PhD-qualified writers of our team have developed these topics, so you can trust to use these topics for drafting your dissertation.

You may also want to start your dissertation by requesting a brief research proposal or full dissertation service from our writers on any of these topics, which includes an introduction to the topic, research question , aim and objectives, literature review , and the proposed research methodology to be conducted. Let us know if you need any help in getting started.

Check our dissertation examples to understand how to structure your dissertation .

Latest Mental Health Dissertation Topics for 2023

Review the step-by-step guide on how to write your dissertation here .

  • Topic 1: Assessing the Influence of Parents’ Divorce or Separation on Adolescent Children regarding long-term psychological impact.
  • Topic 2: Investigating the impact of Trauma and Health-related quality of life on a child’s Mental health and self-worth.

Topic 3: Assessing the effect of Psychological training on males suffering from Post-Surgery Anxiety in the UK.

  • Topic 4: Investigating the Relationship between Mental Illness and Suicides- A case study of UK’s Young Adults.

Topic 5: Examining the behaviour of Mental Health Nurses taking care of Schizophrenia Patients in the UK.

Topic 1: an assessment of the influence of parents' divorce or separation on adolescent children in terms of long-term psychological impact..

Research Aim: This study aims to investigate the level of traumas experienced by the children of divorced or separated parents. The principal aim of this study is to explore the long-term psychological impacts of parents’ divorce on the life of children regardless of their gender and age in terms of mental wellbeing, academic performance, and self-worth.

Topic 2: An investigation of the impact of Trauma and Health-related quality of life on the Mental health and Self-worth of a child.

Research Aim: This study aims to assess the long-term impacts of the trauma children face in their early years of life on their overall mental health. Also, numerous studies have emphasized improving the quality of life for children who tend to experience multiple traumas and take them along in adulthood. Therefore, this study also proposed the impacts of traumatic childhood experiences on self-worth, mental health, and vitality of implementing firm intervention before the child reaches adulthood.

Research Aim: Postoperative problems may occur as a result of surgical stress. This study aims to examine different approaches to control post-surgical anxiety and improve patients’ lives in the short and long term, focusing on male patients in the UK. It will also give us an understanding of how psychological training and interventions affect anxiety in male patients and help them overcome this through a systematic review.

Topic 4: Investigating the Relationship between Mental illness and Suicides- A case study of UK's Young Adults.

Research Aim: This study aims to find the relationship between mental illness and suicides and risk factors in the UK. This study will specifically focus on young adults. It will examine different mental disorders and how they have led to suicide and will analyse further studies of people who had died by suicide and find evidence of the presence or absence of mental illness.

Research Aim: Negative behaviours and discrimination have been usually reported as a reason for the inconvenience in the treatment of mentally ill or schizophrenia patients, which negatively impacts the patient’s results. Health care professionals’ attitudes have been regarded as being more negative than the general public, which lowers the outlook for patients suffering from mental illness. This study will examine the behaviour of mental health nurses regarding schizophrenia patients in the UK and also focus on the characteristics associated with nurses’ attitudes.

COVID-19 Mental Health Research Topics

Topic1: impacts of the coronavirus on the mental health of various age groups.

Research Aim: This study will reveal the impacts of coronavirus on the mental health of various age groups

Topic 2: Mental health and psychological resilience during COVID-19

Research Aim: Social distancing has made people isolated and affected their mental health. This study will highlight various measures to overcome the stress and mental health of people during coronavirus.

Topic 3: The mental health of children and families during COVID-19

Research Aim: This study will address the challenging situations faced by children and families during lockdown due to COVID-19. It will also discuss various ways to overcome the fear of disease and stay positive.

Topic 4: Mental wellbeing of patients during the Coronavirus pandemic

Research Aim: This study will focus on the measures taken by the hospital management, government, and families to ensure patients’ mental well-being, especially COVID-19 patients.

Best Mental Health Topics for Your Dissertation in the Year 2021

Topic 1: kids and their relatives with cancer: psychological challenges.

Research Aim: In cancer diagnoses and therapies, children often don’t know what happens. Many have psychosocial problems, including rage, terror, depression, disturbing their sleep, inexpiable guilt, and panic. Therefore, this study is designed to identify and treat the child and its family members’ psychological issues.

Topic 2: Hematopoietic device reaction in ophthalmology patient’s radiation therapy

Research Aim: This research is based on the analysis of hematopoietic devices’ reactions to ophthalmology’s radiation.

Topic 3: Psychological effects of cyberbullying Vs. physical bullying: A counter study

Research Aim: This research will focus on the effects of cyberbullying and physical bullying and their consequences on the victim’s mental health. The most significant part is the counter effects on our society’s environment and human behaviour, particularly youth.

Topic 4: Whether or not predictive processing is a theory of perceptual consciousness?

Research Aim: This research aims to identify: whether or not predictive processing is a theory of perceptual consciousness?

Topic 5: Importance of communication in a relationship

Research Aim: This research aims to address the importance of communication in relationships and the communication gap consequences.

Topic 6: Eating and personality disorders

Research Aim: This research aims to focus on eating and personality disorders

Topic 7: Analysis of teaching, assessment, and evaluation of students and learning differences

Research Aim: This research aims to analyse teaching methods, assessment, and evaluation systems of students and their learning differences

Topic 8: Social and psychological effects of virtual networks

Research Aim: This research aims to study the social and psychological effects of virtual networks

Topic 9: The role of media in provoking aggression

Research Aim: This research aims to address the role of media and in provoking aggression among people

Best Mental Health Topics for Your Dissertation in the Year 2020

Topic 1: what is the impact of social media platforms on the mental wellbeing of adults.

Research Aim: the current study aims to investigate the impact social media platforms tend to have on adults’ mental well-being with a particular focus on the United Kingdom. While many studies have been carried out to gauge the impact of social media platforms on teenagers’ mental well-being, little to no research has been performed to investigate how the health of adults might be affected by the same and how social media platforms like Facebook impact them.

Topic 2: The contemporary practical management approach to treating personality disorders

Research Aim: This research will discuss the contemporary practical management approach for treating personality disorders in mental health patients. In the previous days, much of the personality disorder treatments were based on medicines and drugs. Therefore, this research will address contemporary and practical ways to manage how personality disorders affect the mental state of the individuals who have the disease.

Topic 3: How is Prozac being used in the modern-day to treat self-diagnosed depression?

Research Aim: In the current day and age, besides people suffering from clinical depression, many of the teens and the adults across have started to suffer from self-diagnosed depression. To treat their self-diagnosed depression, individuals take Prozac through all the wrong means, which harms their mental state even more. Therefore, the current study aims to shed light on how Prozac is being used in the modern age and the adverse effects of misinformed use on the patients.

Topic 4: Are women more prone to suffer from mental disorders than men: Comparative analysis

Research Aim: There have been several arguments regarding whether women are more likely to suffer from mental disorders than men. Much of the research carried out provides evidence that women are more prone to suffer from mental disorders. This research study aims to conduct a comparative analysis to determine whether it’s more likely for men or women to suffer from mental disorders and what role biological and societal factors play in determining the trend.

Topic 5: The impact of breakups on the mental health of men?

Research Aim: Several studies have been carried out to discuss how women are affected more by a breakup than men. However, little research material is available in support of the impact the end of a relationship can have on men’s mental health. Therefore, this research study will fill out the gap in research to determine the impact of a breakup on men’s mental health and stability.

Topic 6: A theoretical analysis of the Impact of emotional attachment on mental health?

Research Aim: This research aims to analyse the theories developed around emotional attachment to address how emotional attachment can harm individuals’ mental health across the globe. Several theories discuss the role that emotional attachment tends to play in the mind of a healthy being, and how emotional attachment can often negatively affect mental well-being.

Topic 7: How do social media friendships contribute to poor mental health?

Research Aim: This research idea aims to address how social media friendships and networking can often lead to a lack of self-acceptance, self-loathing, self-pity, self-comparison, and depression due to the different mindsets that are present in today’s world.

Topic 8: What role do parents play in ensuring the mental well-being of their children?

Research Aim: It is assumed that parents tend to stop playing a role in ensuring that the mental health and well-being of their children are being maintained after a certain age. Therefore, this study will aim to put forward the idea that even after the children pass the age of 18, activities and their relationship with their parents would always play a role in the way their mental health is being transformed.

Topic 9: A study on the mental health of soldiers returning from Iraq?

Research Aim: This topic idea puts forward the aim that the mental health of soldiers who return from war-struck areas is always a subject of interest, as each of the soldiers carries a mental burden. Therefore, it is vital to understand the soldiers’ mental health returning from Iraq, focusing on what causes their mental health to deteriorate during the war and suggestions of what to do or who to call if they do become unwell.

Topic 10: How the contemporary media practices in the UK are leading to mental health problems?

Research Aim: The media is known to have control and influence over people’s mindsets who are connected to it. Many of the contemporary media practices developed in the UK can negatively impact the mental well-being of individuals, which makes it necessary to analyse how they are contributing to the mental health problems among the UK population.

Topic 11: What is the impact of television advertising on the mental development of children in the UK?

Research Aim: This topic would aim to address how television advertising can negatively impact children’s mental development in the United Kingdom, as it has been observed in many studies that television advertising is detrimental to the mental health of children.

Topic 12: How deteriorating mental health can have an Impact on physical health?

Research Aim: This research aims to address the side-effects of deteriorating mental health on the physical health of individuals in the society, as it is believed that the majority of the physical ailments in the modern-day and age are due to the deteriorating mental health of individuals. The study can address the treatments for many ailments in our society due to deteriorating mental health and well-being.

Topic 13: The relationship between unemployment and mental health

Research Aim: How unemployment relates to concepts, such as a declining economy or lack of social skills and education, has been frequently explored by many researchers in the past. However, not many have discussed the relationship between unemployment and the mental health of unemployed individuals. Therefore, this topic will help address the problems faced by individuals due to unemployment because of the mental blocks they are likely to develop and experience. In the future, it would lead to fewer people being depressed due to unemployment when further research is carried out.

Topic 14: The mental health problems of prisoners in the United Kingdom

Research Aim: While prisoners across the globe are criticised and studied for the negativity that goes on in their mindsets, one would rarely research the mental health problems they tend to develop when they become a prisoner for committing any crime. It is often assumed that it is the life inside the prison walls that impacts the prisoners’ mental health in a way that leads to them committing more crimes. Therefore, this research topic has been developed to study prison’s impact on prisoners’ mental well-being in the United Kingdom to eventually decrease the number of crimes that occur due to the negative environment inside the prisons.

Topic 15: Mental well-being of industry workers in China

Research Aim: While many research studies have been carried out regarding the conditions that the workers in China tend to be exposed to, there is very little supporting evidence regarding the impact such working conditions have on the mindset and mental health of the workers. Therefore, this study aims to address the challenges faced by industry workers in China and the impact that such challenges can have on their mental well-being.

Topic 16: Is the provision of mental health care services in the United Kingdom effective?

Research Aim: Many people have made different assumptions regarding the mental health care services provided across the globe. However, it seems that little to no research has been carried out regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the provision of mental health care services in the United Kingdom. Therefore, this study aims to put forward research into the mental health care services provided in well-developed countries like the United Kingdom to gauge the awareness and importance of mental health in the region.

Topic 17: What are the mental health problems the minorities in the United Kingdom face?

Research Aim: It is believed that the minorities in the United Kingdom are likely to experience physical abuse, societal abuse and are often exposed to discrimination and unfair acts at the workplace and in their social circle. The study investigates the range of mental problems faced by minorities in the UK, which need to be addressed to have equality, diversity, and harmony.

Topic 18: The impact the Coronavirus has had on the mental health of the Chinese people

Research Aim: The spread of the deadly Coronavirus has led to many deaths in the region of China, and many of those who have been suspected of the virus are being put in isolation and quarantine. Such conditions tend to have hurt the mental health of those who have suffered from the disease and those who have watched people suffer from it. Therefore, the current study aims to address how the Coronavirus has impacted the mental health of the Chinese people.

Topic 19: How to create change in mental health organisations in China?

Research Aim: Research suggests little awareness about mental health in many Asian countries. As mental health problems are on the rise across the globe, it is necessary to change mental health organisations. Therefore, the study aims to discuss how to create change in mental health organisations in the Asian region using China’s example.

Topic 20: Addressing the mental health concerns of the Syrian refugees in the UK

Research Aim: This research project would address the concerns in terms of the refugees’ mental health and well-being, using an example of the Syrian refugees who had been allowed entry into the United Kingdom. This idea aims to put forward the negative effects that migration can have on the refugees and how further research is required to combat such issues not just in the United Kingdom but worldwide.

How Can ResearchProspect Help?

ResearchProspect writers can send several custom topic ideas to your email address. Once you have chosen a topic that suits your needs and interests, you can order for our dissertation outline service which will include a brief introduction to the topic, research questions , literature review , methodology , expected results , and conclusion . The dissertation outline will enable you to review the quality of our work before placing the order for our full dissertation writing service!

Important Notes:

As a mental health student looking to get good grades, it is essential to develop new ideas and experiment on existing mental health theories – i.e., to add value and interest in the topic of your research.

Mental health is vast and interrelated to so many other academic disciplines like civil engineering ,  construction ,  project management , engineering management , healthcare , finance and accounting , artificial intelligence , tourism , physiotherapy , sociology , management , project management , and nursing . That is why it is imperative to create a project management dissertation topic that is articular, sound, and actually solves a practical problem that may be rampant in the field.

We can’t stress how important it is to develop a logical research topic based on your entire research. There are several significant downfalls to getting your topic wrong; your supervisor may not be interested in working on it, the topic has no academic creditability, the research may not make logical sense, there is a possibility that the study is not viable.

This impacts your time and efforts in writing your dissertation as you may end up in the cycle of rejection at the initial stage of the dissertation. That is why we recommend reviewing existing research to develop a topic, taking advice from your supervisor, and even asking for help in this particular stage of your dissertation.

While developing a research topic, keeping our advice in mind will allow you to pick one of the best mental health dissertation topics that fulfill your requirement of writing a research paper and add to the body of knowledge.

Therefore, it is recommended that when finalizing your dissertation topic, you read recently published literature to identify gaps in the research that you may help fill.

Remember- dissertation topics need to be unique, solve an identified problem, be logical, and be practically implemented. Please look at some of our sample mental health dissertation topics to get an idea for your own dissertation.

How to Structure your Mental Health Dissertation

A well-structured dissertation can help students to achieve a high overall academic grade.

  • A Title Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • Declaration
  • Abstract: A summary of the research completed
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction : This chapter includes the project rationale, research background, key research aims and objectives, and the research problems. An outline of the structure of a dissertation can also be added to this chapter.
  • Literature Review : This chapter presents relevant theories and frameworks by analysing published and unpublished literature available on the chosen research topic to address research questions . The purpose is to highlight and discuss the selected research area’s relative weaknesses and strengths whilst identifying any research gaps. Break down the topic, and key terms that can positively impact your dissertation and your tutor.
  • Methodology : The data collection and analysis methods and techniques employed by the researcher are presented in the Methodology chapter which usually includes research design , research philosophy, research limitations, code of conduct, ethical consideration, data collection methods, and data analysis strategy .
  • Findings and Analysis : Findings of the research are analysed in detail under the Findings and Analysis chapter. All key findings/results are outlined in this chapter without interpreting the data or drawing any conclusions. It can be useful to include graphs, charts, and tables in this chapter to identify meaningful trends and relationships.
  • Discussion and Conclusion : The researcher presents his interpretation of results in this chapter, and state whether the research hypothesis has been verified or not. An essential aspect of this section of the paper is to draw a linkage between the results and evidence from the literature. Recommendations with regards to implications of the findings and directions for the future may also be provided. Finally, a summary of the overall research, along with final judgments, opinions, and comments, must be included in the form of suggestions for improvement.
  • References : This should be completed following your University’s requirements
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices : Any additional information, diagrams, and graphs used to complete the dissertation but not part of the dissertation should be included in the Appendices chapter. Essentially, the purpose is to expand the information/data.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How to find mental health dissertation topics.

To find mental health dissertation topics:

  • Research recent mental health issues.
  • Examine gaps in existing literature.
  • Consider diverse populations or perspectives.
  • Explore treatment approaches or therapies.
  • Look into stigma and societal factors.
  • Select a topic that resonates with you for in-depth study.

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Research Topics & Ideas: Mental Health

100+ Mental Health Research Topic Ideas To Fast-Track Your Project

If you’re just starting out exploring mental health topics for your dissertation, thesis or research project, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll help kickstart your research topic ideation process by providing a hearty list of mental health-related research topics and ideas.

PS – This is just the start…

We know it’s exciting to run through a list of research topics, but please keep in mind that this list is just a starting point . To develop a suitable education-related research topic, you’ll need to identify a clear and convincing research gap , and a viable plan of action to fill that gap.

If this sounds foreign to you, check out our free research topic webinar that explores how to find and refine a high-quality research topic, from scratch. Alternatively, if you’d like hands-on help, consider our 1-on-1 coaching service .

Overview: Mental Health Topic Ideas

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance-related disorders

Research topic idea mega list

Mood Disorders

Research in mood disorders can help understand their causes and improve treatment methods. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • The impact of genetics on the susceptibility to depression
  • Efficacy of antidepressants vs. cognitive behavioural therapy
  • The role of gut microbiota in mood regulation
  • Cultural variations in the experience and diagnosis of bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Environmental factors and treatment
  • The link between depression and chronic illnesses
  • Exercise as an adjunct treatment for mood disorders
  • Hormonal changes and mood swings in postpartum women
  • Stigma around mood disorders in the workplace
  • Suicidal tendencies among patients with severe mood disorders

Anxiety Disorders

Research topics in this category can potentially explore the triggers, coping mechanisms, or treatment efficacy for anxiety disorders.

  • The relationship between social media and anxiety
  • Exposure therapy effectiveness in treating phobias
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder in children: Early signs and interventions
  • The role of mindfulness in treating anxiety
  • Genetics and heritability of anxiety disorders
  • The link between anxiety disorders and heart disease
  • Anxiety prevalence in LGBTQ+ communities
  • Caffeine consumption and its impact on anxiety levels
  • The economic cost of untreated anxiety disorders
  • Virtual Reality as a treatment method for anxiety disorders

Psychotic Disorders

Within this space, your research topic could potentially aim to investigate the underlying factors and treatment possibilities for psychotic disorders.

  • Early signs and interventions in adolescent psychosis
  • Brain imaging techniques for diagnosing psychotic disorders
  • The efficacy of antipsychotic medication
  • The role of family history in psychotic disorders
  • Misdiagnosis and delayed treatment of psychotic disorders
  • Co-morbidity of psychotic and mood disorders
  • The relationship between substance abuse and psychotic disorders
  • Art therapy as a treatment for schizophrenia
  • Public perception and stigma around psychotic disorders
  • Hospital vs. community-based care for psychotic disorders

Research Topic Kickstarter - Need Help Finding A Research Topic?

Personality Disorders

Research topics within in this area could delve into the identification, management, and social implications of personality disorders.

  • Long-term outcomes of borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder and criminal behaviour
  • The role of early life experiences in developing personality disorders
  • Narcissistic personality disorder in corporate leaders
  • Gender differences in personality disorders
  • Diagnosis challenges for Cluster A personality disorders
  • Emotional intelligence and its role in treating personality disorders
  • Psychotherapy methods for treating personality disorders
  • Personality disorders in the elderly population
  • Stigma and misconceptions about personality disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

Within this space, research topics could focus on the causes, symptoms, or treatment of disorders like OCD and hoarding.

  • OCD and its relationship with anxiety disorders
  • Cognitive mechanisms behind hoarding behaviour
  • Deep Brain Stimulation as a treatment for severe OCD
  • The impact of OCD on academic performance in students
  • Role of family and social networks in treating OCD
  • Alternative treatments for hoarding disorder
  • Childhood onset OCD: Diagnosis and treatment
  • OCD and religious obsessions
  • The impact of OCD on family dynamics
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Causes and treatment

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Research topics in this area could explore the triggers, symptoms, and treatments for PTSD. Here are some thought starters to get you moving.

  • PTSD in military veterans: Coping mechanisms and treatment
  • Childhood trauma and adult onset PTSD
  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) efficacy
  • Role of emotional support animals in treating PTSD
  • Gender differences in PTSD occurrence and treatment
  • Effectiveness of group therapy for PTSD patients
  • PTSD and substance abuse: A dual diagnosis
  • First responders and rates of PTSD
  • Domestic violence as a cause of PTSD
  • The neurobiology of PTSD

Free Webinar: How To Find A Dissertation Research Topic

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

This category of mental health aims to better understand disorders like Autism and ADHD and their impact on day-to-day life.

  • Early diagnosis and interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • ADHD medication and its impact on academic performance
  • Parental coping strategies for children with neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Autism and gender: Diagnosis disparities
  • The role of diet in managing ADHD symptoms
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders in the criminal justice system
  • Genetic factors influencing Autism
  • ADHD and its relationship with sleep disorders
  • Educational adaptations for children with neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders and stigma in schools

Eating Disorders

Research topics within this space can explore the psychological, social, and biological aspects of eating disorders.

  • The role of social media in promoting eating disorders
  • Family dynamics and their impact on anorexia
  • Biological basis of binge-eating disorder
  • Treatment outcomes for bulimia nervosa
  • Eating disorders in athletes
  • Media portrayal of body image and its impact
  • Eating disorders and gender: Are men underdiagnosed?
  • Cultural variations in eating disorders
  • The relationship between obesity and eating disorders
  • Eating disorders in the LGBTQ+ community

Substance-Related Disorders

Research topics in this category can focus on addiction mechanisms, treatment options, and social implications.

  • Efficacy of rehabilitation centres for alcohol addiction
  • The role of genetics in substance abuse
  • Substance abuse and its impact on family dynamics
  • Prescription drug abuse among the elderly
  • Legalisation of marijuana and its impact on substance abuse rates
  • Alcoholism and its relationship with liver diseases
  • Opioid crisis: Causes and solutions
  • Substance abuse education in schools: Is it effective?
  • Harm reduction strategies for drug abuse
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders in substance abusers

Research topic evaluator

Choosing A Research Topic

These research topic ideas we’ve covered here serve as thought starters to help you explore different areas within mental health. They are intentionally very broad and open-ended. By engaging with the currently literature in your field of interest, you’ll be able to narrow down your focus to a specific research gap .

It’s important to consider a variety of factors when choosing a topic for your dissertation or thesis . Think about the relevance of the topic, its feasibility , and the resources available to you, including time, data, and academic guidance. Also, consider your own interest and expertise in the subject, as this will sustain you through the research process.

Always consult with your academic advisor to ensure that your chosen topic aligns with academic requirements and offers a meaningful contribution to the field. If you need help choosing a topic, consider our private coaching service.

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Public health-related research topics and ideas

Good morning everyone. This are very patent topics for research in neuroscience. Thank you for guidance


What if everything is important, original and intresting? as in Neuroscience. I find myself overwhelmd with tens of relveant areas and within each area many optional topics. I ask myself if importance (for example – able to treat people suffering) is more relevant than what intrest me, and on the other hand if what advance me further in my career should not also be a consideration?


This information is really helpful and have learnt alot

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Mental Health, PhD

Bloomberg school of public health, phd program description.

The PhD program is designed to provide key knowledge and skill-based competencies in the field of public mental health. To gain the knowledge and skills, all PhD students will be expected to complete required coursework, including courses that meet the CEPH competency requirements and research ethics; successfully pass the departmental comprehensive exam; select and meet regularly with a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) as part of advancing to doctoral candidacy; present a public seminar on their dissertation proposal; successfully pass the departmental and school-wide Preliminary Oral Exams; complete a doctoral thesis followed by a formal school-wide Final Oral Defense; participate as a Teaching Assistant (TA); attend Grand Rounds in the Department of Psychiatry; and provide a formal public seminar on their own research.  Each of these components is described in more detail below. The Introduction to Online Learning course is taken before the start of the first term.

Department Organization

The PhD Program Director, Dr. Rashelle Musci ( [email protected] ), works with the Vice-Chair for Education, Dr. Judy Bass ( [email protected] ), to support new doctoral students, together with their advisers, to formulate their academic plans; oversee their completion of ethics training; assist with connections to faculty who may serve as advisers or sources for data or special guidance; provide guidance to students in their roles as teaching assistants; and act as a general resource for all departmental doctoral students. The Vice-Chair also leads the Department Committee on Academic Standards and sits on the School Wide Academic Standards Committee. Students can contact Drs. Musci or Bass directly if they have questions or concerns.

Within the department structure, there are several standing and ad-hoc committees that oversee faculty and student research, practice and education. For specific questions on committee mandate and make-up, please contact Dr. Bass or the Academic Program Administrator, Patty Scott, [email protected] .

Academic Training Programs

The Department of Mental Health houses multiple NIH-funded doctoral and postdoctoral institutional training programs:

Psychiatric Epidemiology Training (PET) Program

This interdisciplinary doctoral and postdoctoral program is affiliated with the Department of Epidemiology and with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the School of Medicine. The Program is co-directed by Dr. Peter Zandi ( [email protected] ) and Dr. Heather Volk ( [email protected] ). The goal of the program is to increase the epidemiologic expertise of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals and to increase the number of epidemiologists with the interest and capacity to study psychiatric disorders. Graduates are expected to undertake careers in research on the etiology, classification, distribution, course, and outcome of mental disorders and maladaptive behaviors. The Program is funded with a training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Pre-doctoral trainees are required to take the four-term series in Epidemiologic Methods (340.751-340.754), as well as the four-term series in Biostatistics (140.621-624). In addition to the other departmental requirements for the doctoral degree, pre-doctoral trainees must also take four advanced courses in one of the domains of expertise they have selected to pursue: Genetic and Environmental Etiology of Mental Disorders, Mental Health Services and Outcomes, Mental Health and Aging, and Global Mental Health. Pre-doctoral trainees should consult with their adviser and the program director to select courses consistent with their training goals.

Postdoctoral fellows take some courses, depending on background and experience, and engage in original research under the supervision of a faculty member. They are expected to have mastery of the basic principles and methods of epidemiology and biostatistics. Thus, fellows are required to take 340.721 Epidemiologic Inference in Public Health, 330.603 Psychiatric Epidemiology, and some equivalent of 140.621 Statistical Methods in Public Health I and 140.622 Statistical Methods in Public Health II. They may be waived from these requirements by the program director if they can demonstrate equivalent prior coursework.

Drug Dependence Epidemiology Training (DDET) Program

This training program is co-led by Dr. Renee M. Johnson ( [email protected] ) and Dr. Brion Maher ( [email protected] ). The DDET program is designed to train scientists in the area of substance use and substance use disorders. Research training within the DDET Program focuses on: (1) genetic, biological, social, and environmental factors associated with substance use, (2) medical and social consequences of drug use, including HIV/AIDS and violence, (3) co-morbid mental health problems, and (4) substance use disorder treatment and services. The DDET program is funded by the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The program supports both pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees. Pre-doctoral trainees have a maximum of four years of support on the training grant. After completing required coursework, pre-doctoral trainees are expected to complete original research under the supervision of a faculty member affiliated with the DDET program. Postdoctoral trainees typically have two years of support on the training grant. They are required to engage in original research on a full-time basis, under the supervision of a DDET faculty member. Trainees’ research projects must be relevant to the field of substance use.

All trainees are required to attend a weekly seminar series focused on career development and substance use research. The DDET program supports trainees’ attendance at relevant academic meetings, including the Annual Meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) each June. Training grant appointments are awarded annually and are renewable given adequate progress in the academic program, successful completion of program and departmental requirements, and approval of the training director.

Pre-doctoral trainees are required to take the required series in epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as The Epidemiology of Substance Use and Related Problems (330.602). In addition, they must take three advanced courses that enhance skills or content expertise in substance use and related problems: one in epidemiology (e.g., HIV/AIDS epidemiology), one in biostatistics, and one in social and behavioral science or health policy. The most appropriate biostatistics course will provide instruction on a method the trainee will use during the thesis research (e.g., survival analysis, longitudinal analysis methods). (Course requirements for trainees from other departments will be decided on a case-by-case basis.)

Postdoctoral trainees are expected to enter the program with mastery of the basic principles and methods of epidemiology and biostatistics. They are required to take The Epidemiology of Substance Use and Related Problems in their first year (330.602), as well as required ethics courses. Postdoctoral trainees are encouraged to take courses in scientific writing and grant writing.

Global Mental Health Training (GMH) Program

The Global Mental Health Training (GMH) Program is a training program to provide public health research training in the field of Global Mental Health. It is housed in the Department of Mental Health , in collaboration with the Departments of International Health and Epidemiology. The GMH Program is supported by a T32 research training grant award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Judy Bass ( [email protected] ) is the training program director. 

As part of this training program, trainees will undertake a rigorous program of coursework in epidemiology, biostatistics, public mental health and global mental health, field-based research experiences, and integrative activities that will provide trainees with a solid foundation in the core proficiencies of global mental health while giving trainees the opportunity to pursue specialized training in one of three concentration areas that are recognized as high priority: (1) Prevention Research; (2) Intervention Research; or (3) Integration of Mental Health Services Research.

Pre-doctoral trainees are required to take the required series in epidemiology and biostatistics and department of mental health required courses. In addition, they must take three courses that will enhance skills and content expertise in global mental health: 330.620 Qualitative and Quantitative Methods for Mental Health and Psychosocial Research in Low Resource Settings, 224.694 Mental Health Intervention Programming in Low and Middle Income Countries, and 330.680 Promoting Mental Health and Preventing Mental Disorder in Low and Middle Income Countries.

The Mental Health Services and Systems (MHSS) Program

The Mental Health Services and Systems (MHSS) program is an NIMH-funded T32 training program run jointly by the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health Policy and Management and also has a close affiliation with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Drs. Elizabeth Stuart ( [email protected] ) and Ramin Mojtabai ( [email protected] ) are the training program co-directors.

The goal of the MHSS Program is to train scholars who will become leaders in mental health services and systems research. This program focuses on producing researchers who can address critical gaps in knowledge with a focus on: (1) how healthcare services, delivery settings, and financing systems affect the well-being of persons with mental illness; (2) how cutting-edge statistical and econometric methods can be used in intervention design, policies, and programs to improve care; and (3) how implementation science can be used to most effectively disseminate evidence-based advances into routine practice. The program strongly emphasizes the fundamental principles of research translation and dissemination throughout its curriculum.

Pre-doctoral trainees in the MHSS program are expected to take a set of core coursework in epidemiology and biostatistics, 5 core courses related to the core elements of mental health services and systems (330.662:  Public Mental Health, 330.664: Introduction to Mental Health Services, 140.664:  Causal Inference in Medicine and Public Health, 550.601: Implementation Research and Practice, and 306.665:  Research Ethics and Integrity), and to specialize in one of 3 tracks: (1) health services and economics; (2) statistics and methodology; or (3) implementation science applied to mental health. Trainees are also expected to participate in a biweekly training grant seminar every year of the program and take a year-long practicum course exposing them to real-world mental health service systems and settings. 

For more details see this webpage:   http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/center-for-mental-health-and-addiction-policy-research/training-opportunities/

Epidemiology and Biostatistics of Aging

This program offers training in the methodology and conduct of significant clinical- and population-based research in older adults. This training grant, funded by the National Institute on Aging, has the specific mission to prepare epidemiologists and biostatisticians who will be both leaders and essential members of the multidisciplinary research needed to define models of healthy, productive aging and the prevention and interventions that will accomplish this goal. The Associate Director of this program is Dr. Michelle Carlson ( [email protected]) .

The EBA training grant has as its aims:

  • Train pre- and post-doctoral fellows by providing a structured program consisting of: a) course work, b) seminars and working groups, c) practica, d) directed multidisciplinary collaborative experience through a training program research project, and e) directed research.
  • Ensure hands-on participation in multidisciplinary research bringing trainees together with infrastructure, mentors, and resources, thus developing essential skills and experience for launching their research careers.
  • Provide in-depth knowledge in established areas of concentration, including a) the epidemiology and course of late-life disability, b) the epidemiology of chronic diseases common to older persons, c) cognition, d) social epidemiology, e) the molecular, epidemiological and statistical genetics of aging, f) measurement and analysis of complex gerontological outcomes (e.g, frailty), and g) analysis of longitudinal and survival data.
  • Expand the areas of emphasis to which trainees are exposed by developing new training opportunities in: a) clinical trials; b) causal inference; c) screening and prevention; and d) frailty and the integration of longitudinal physiologic investigation into epidemiology.
  • Integrate epidemiology and biostatistics training to form a seamless, synthesized approach whose result is greater than the sum of its parts, to best prepare trainees to tackle aging-related research questions.

These aims are designed to provide the fields of geriatrics and gerontology with epidemiologists and biostatisticians who have an appreciation for and understanding of the public health and scientific issues in human aging, and who have the experience collaborating across disciplines that is essential to high-quality research on aging. More information can be found at: https://coah.jhu.edu/graduate-programs-and-postdoctoral-training/epidemiology-and-biostatistics-of-aging/ .

Aging and Dementia Training Program

This interdisciplinary pre- and post-doctoral training program is an interdisciplinary program, funded by the National Institute on Aging, affiliated with the Department of Neurology and the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine, the Department of Mental Health at the School of Public Health and the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at the School of Arts and Sciences. The Department of Mental Health contact is Dr. Michelle Carlson ( [email protected] ). The goal of this training program is to train young investigators in age-related cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Program Requirements 

Course location and modality is found on the BSPH website .

Residence Requirements

All doctoral students must complete and register for four full-time terms of a regular academic year, in succession, starting with Term 1 registration in August-September of the academic year and continuing through Term 4 ending in May of that same academic year. Full-time registration entails a minimum of 16 credits of registration each term and a maximum of 22 credits per term.

Full-time residence means more than registration. It means active participation in department seminars and lectures, research work group meetings, and other socializing experiences within our academic community. As such, doctoral trainees are expected to be in attendance on campus for the full academic year except on official University holidays and vacation leave.

Course Requirements

Not all courses are required to be taken in the first year alone; students typically take 2 years to complete all course requirements. 

Students must obtain an A or B in all required courses. If a grade of C or below is received, the student will be required to repeat the course. An exception is given if a student receives a C (but not a D) in either of the first two terms of the required biostatistics series, but then receives a B or better in both of the final two terms of the series; then a student will not be required to retake the earlier biostatistics course. However, the student cannot have a cumulative GPA lower than 3.0 to remain in good academic standing. Any other exceptions to this grade requirement must be reviewed and approved by the departmental CAS and academic adviser.

Below are the required courses for the PhD; further Information can be found on the PhD in Mental Health webpage. 


Must be completed to be eligible to sit for the departmental written comprehensive exams.


Department of mental health courses.

For Department of Mental Health doctoral students, a research paper is required entailing one additional course credit.  PH.330.840 Special Studies and Research Mental Health  listing Dr. Eaton as the mentor.


The School requires that at least 18 credit units must be satisfactorily completed in formal courses outside the student's primary department. Among these 18 credit units, no fewer than three courses (totaling at least 9 credits) must be satisfactorily completed in two or more departments of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. The remaining outside credit units may be earned in any department or division of the University. This requirement is usually satisfied with the biostatistics and epidemiology courses required by the department.

Candidates who have completed a master’s program at the Bloomberg School of Public Health may apply 12 credits from that program toward this School requirement. Contact the Academic Office for further information.


Introduction to Online Learning  taken before the first year.


PH.550.860 Academic & Research Ethics at BSPH  (0 credit - pass/fail)  required of all students in the first term of registration.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) connotes a broad range of career development topics that goes beyond the more narrowly focused “research ethics” and includes issues such as conflict of interest, authorship responsibilities, research misconduct, animal use and care, and human subjects research. RCR training requirements for JHPSH students are based on two circumstances: their degree program and their source of funding, which may overlap. 

  • All PhD students are required to take one of two courses in Responsible Conduct of Research, detailed below one time, in any year, during their doctoral studies.
  • All students, regardless of degree program, who receive funding from one of the federal grant mechanisms outlined in the NIH notice below, must take one of the two courses listed below to satisfy the 8 in-person hours of training in specific topic areas specified by NIH (e.g., conflict of interest, authorship, research misconduct, human and animal subject ethics, etc.).

The two courses that satisfy either requirement are:

  • PH.550.600 Living Science Ethics - Responsible Conduct of Research  [1 credit, Evans]. Once per week, 1st term.
  • PH.306.665 Research Ethics and integrity  [3 credits, Kass]. Twice per week, 3rd term.

Registration in either course is recorded on the student’s transcript and serves as documentation of completion of the requirement.

  • If a non-PhD or postdoctoral student is unsure whether or not their source of funding requires in-person RCR training, they or the PI should contact the project officer for the award.
  • Students who have conflicts that make it impossible for them to take either course can attend a similar course offered by Sharon Krag at Homewood during several intensive sessions (sequential full days or half days) that meet either on weekends in October or April, a week in June, or intersessions in January. Permission is required. Elizabeth Peterson ( [email protected] ) can provide details on dates and times.
  • Students who may have taken the REWards course (Research Ethics Workshops About Responsibilities and Duties of Scientists) in the SOM can request that this serve as a replacement, as long as they can provide documentation of at least 8 in-person contact hours.
  • Postdoctoral students are permitted to enroll in either course but BSPH does not require them to take RCR training. However, terms of their funding might require RCR training and it is their obligation to fulfill the requirement.
  • The required Academic Ethics module is independent of the RCR training requirement. It is a standalone module that must be completed by all students at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. This module covers topics associated with maintaining academic integrity, including plagiarism, proper citations, and cheating.

PhD in Mental Health  

Department of Mental Health candidates for the degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) must fulfill all University and School requirements. These include, but are not limited to, a minimum of four consecutive academic terms at the School in full-time residency (some programs require 6 terms), continuous registration throughout their tenure as a PhD student, satisfactory completion of a Departmental Written Comprehensive Examination, satisfactory performance on a University Preliminary Oral Examination, readiness to undertake research, and preparation and successful defense of a thesis based upon independent research.

PhD Students are required to be registered full-time for a minimum of 16 credits per term and courses must be taken for letter grade or pass/fail. Courses taken for audit do not count toward the 16-credit registration minimum.

Students having already earned credit at BSPH from a master's program or as a Special Student Limited within the past three years for any of the required courses may be able to use them toward satisfaction of doctoral course requirements.

For a full list of program policies, please visit the PhD in Mental Health  page where students can find more information and links to our handbook.

Completion of Requirements

The University places a seven-year maximum limit upon the period of doctoral study. The Department of Mental Health students are expected to complete all requirements in an average of 4-5 years. 

Learning Outcomes

The PhD program is designed to provide key knowledge and skill-based competencies in the field of public mental health. Upon successful completion of the PhD in Mental Health, students will have mastered the following competencies:

  • Evaluate the clinical presentations, incidence, prevalence, course and risk/protective factors for major mental and behavioral health disorders.
  • Differentiate important known biological, psychological and social risk and protective factors for major mental and behavioral disorders and assess how to advance understanding of the causes of these disorders in populations.
  • Evaluate and explain factors associated with resiliency and recovery from major mental and behavioral disorders.
  • Evaluate, select, and implement effective methods and measurement strategies for assessment of major mental and behavioral disorders across a range of epidemiologic settings.
  • Critically evaluate strategies for the prevention and treatment of major mental and behavioral disorders as well as utilization and delivery of mental health services over the life course, across a range of settings, and in a range of national contexts.
  • Assess preventive and treatment interventions likely to prove effective in optimizing mental health of the population, reducing the incidence of mental and behavioral disorders, raising rates of recovery from disorders, and reducing risk of later disorder recurrence. 

According  to the requirements of the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), all BSPH degree students must be grounded in foundational public health knowledge. Please view the  list of specific CEPH requirements by degree type .

Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

Mental Health PhD Program

phd topics in mental health

A multidisciplinary PhD Program in Mental Health

This Program brings together graduate researchers addressing mental health from diverse disciplinary perspectives - psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology and community mental health, history and philosophy of psychiatry, general practice, paediatrics, psychiatric nursing and social work, among others. Launched in March 2018, the Program is a joint initiative of the University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences, Centre for Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry. These were joined in 2020 by the Centre for Youth Mental Health and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health.

Our goal is to provide all University of Melbourne PhD students researching mental health with a platform to connect, share and discover new disciplines so that they can become fully-rounded researchers who can approach the field of mental health from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Host departments

The  Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences is one of the most highly regarded schools of psychology in Australia. The School attracts some of the best students nationally and internationally to its broad range of APAC-accredited undergraduate, graduate, professional and research programs. The School's teaching is underpinned by excellence in research across a range of fields, including cognitive and behavioural neuroscience, quantitative psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology and clinical science.

The  Centre for Mental Health is part of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and aims to improve mental health and mitigate the impact of mental illness at a population level. It does this through high-quality, collaborative, interdisciplinary research, academic teaching, professional and community education, and mental health system development. The Centre contributes to evidence-informed mental health policy and practice in Australia and internationally through the work of its three units:

  • Global and Cultural Mental Health
  • Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • Population Mental Health.

The Centre's three units are involved in active and productive collaborations within the University and beyond. These relationships range from not-for-profit agencies like Mind Australia through to international NGOs such as the World Health Organization, and enables the translation of their research into policy and practice.

The   Department of Psychiatry is committed to the prevention of mental illness and improved quality of life for individuals affected by mental illness, both nationally and internationally. The Department has unique strengths around biological and translational psychiatry research which are internationally recognised. Together with clinical collaborations and involvement in mental health policy and practice, this provides a stimulating environment for learning and research training programs. Their research is driven by pure and applied questions that require cross-disciplinary approaches and partnerships with diverse community organisations - especially those effected with mental illness. The research informs our teaching and clinical training and engagement with the wider community.

The Centre for Youth Mental Health brings together the experience and expertise of world leaders in the field of youth mental health and has become an internationally renowned research centre in this field. The Centre focuses on understanding the biological, psychological and social factors that influence onset, remission and relapse of mental illnesses in young people. Its research findings are actively translated into improved policy, practice and training that inform the development of better interventions, treatments and service systems for young people at different stages of mental ill-health. The multidisciplinary nature of its research provides a diverse and stimulating environment for students. The local and international collaborations with other universities and research institutes link it with a broader research community, with unique global perspectives and the opportunity for an exciting exchange of ideas.

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health (The Florey) is the largest brain research group in the southern hemisphere and one of the world’s top brain research centres. It is an independent medical research institute with strong connections to other research groups, globally. Our scientists are found at three research facilities, one on the grounds of the University of Melbourne in Parkville, one in the adjacent Royal Melbourne Hospital and the other at Austin Health in Heidelberg.

phd topics in mental health

Program activities

Mental health is a multidisciplinary, complex and rapidly growing research domain. Your years as a graduate researcher at the University of Melbourne are the perfect time for you to broaden your skill set, build your network and expand your understanding of this dynamic field. At the moment we have over 70 graduate researchers in our community who come from over a dozen different Centres and Schools within the University and we would love for you to join us!

Our online platform

In order for you to get to know others and learn from the MHPP community's wide variety of disciplines and expertise, we have an online platform with different channels offering a host of opportunities:

  • PhD Progress and Professional Development Channel: Ask any questions  you might have about all aspects of your PhD, get peer support and develop your research skills by making the most of professional development opportunities such as online workshops and skills training.
  • MHPP Events Channel: Find information here about the events organised by the Program , including social get-togethers, webinars and workshops.
  • Members and Alumni Channel: Connect with your fellow PhD students across the many different institutes and schools represented in the Program, learn from alumni and build your research network.
  • Items of Interest Channel: Be kept up to date about University of Melbourne events related to mental health and get invited to attend colloquium talks  by local and visiting experts across the different academic host units, offering unparalleled access to cutting-edge research in mental health.

And more…

In addition, you can also use the MHPP as a unique opportunity to expand your CV by working on your transferable skills and help run an event or become a Mental Health PhD Program Event Coordinator ( not mandatory ).

Program structure

Mhpp co-directors team.

phd topics in mental health

“This PhD Program provides currently enrolled University of Melbourne PhD students working within the domain of mental health with the opportunity to become accomplished graduate researchers who are not only prepared to engage with their own discipline, but are equipped with the capacity to place their work in a broader multidisciplinary context within mental health.”

phd topics in mental health

Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

“A PhD position is a big commitment and this program creates a platform to support a true cohort experience and provide a network of support, aimed to help PhD candidates working within the mental health domain through their doctorate and beyond.”

phd topics in mental health

Department of Psychiatry, Melbourne Medical School

“Undertaking a PhD can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life, yet sometimes, as one buries deeper into their topic, there is risk of feeling quite isolated and disconnected. The Mental Health PhD Program provides a wonderful opportunity to share the journey, connect with others with similar interests, and gain exposure to the broader mental health research landscape.”

phd topics in mental health

Centre for Youth Mental Health

“The Mental Health PhD Program is a vibrant community of post-graduate students who share a common passion and interest in creating new knowledge in the field of mental health, but who come at this through different disciplines, lenses and research methodologies. This program provides a wonderful and unique opportunity for exposure to different ways of thinking about similar problems in a supportive, collaborative and engaging way.”

phd topics in mental health

Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health

“To transform our understandings into mental health and metal ill-health, we really need multifaceted complimentary approaches that span preclinical tools to clinical approaches and services. This PhD Program provides a unique opportunity for students to be exposed to this breadth of multidisciplinary research that is available within Parkville and the University of Melbourne, and to share their PhD journey with a diverse cohort that will get them thinking about all the levels at which we need to tackle research in the mental health field.”

MHPP Operations Manager

phd topics in mental health

The Mental Health PhD Program now has a wonderful Operations Manager: Brendan Pearl (Department of Psychiatry). Brendan is involved in the organisation, coordination and promotion of many of our great events.

MHPP Event Coordinators

The Mental Health PhD Program has a new online platform with a team of Event Coordinators. This is a team of current MHPP PhD students who help organise events and provide a true cohort experience.  The invaluable contributions of these wonderful MHPP members is what makes the Program truly great!

It is also a great way for members to work on their transferable skills, expand their CVs and create a vast multidisciplinary network with the University of Melbourne. If you would like to join the MHPP and are perhaps interested in taking on the role of Event Coordinator for some time during your PhD journey then please visit the application tab here . We would love to hear from you!

phd topics in mental health

Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health

phd topics in mental health

Centre for Mental Health

phd topics in mental health

Department of General Practice

phd topics in mental health

Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, Department of Psychiatry

phd topics in mental health

Department of Psychiatry

Please find below testimonials from some of our current graduate researchers about their experience of the Mental Health PhD Program.

If you are a mental health graduate researcher, this program is a fundamental building block to understanding how dynamic, complex, inspirational, positive and exciting the field of mental health can be.

phd topics in mental health

Tam Dennis - Graduate Researcher at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

I am very fortunate to be a part of this amazing community and highly recommend it for any PhD student in the area of mental health!

phd topics in mental health

Kavisha Fernando - Graduate Researcher at the Department of Psychiatry

The Mental Health PhD Program (MHPP) is a wonderful program which promotes learning and professional development during your PhD journey.

phd topics in mental health

Carra Simpson - Graduate Researcher at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

What I like about the MHPP is that it provides a platform which is graduate-researcher driven and truly multidisciplinary; it provides opportunities for developing skills which we identify as useful and are above and beyond the scope of our individual departments.

phd topics in mental health

Brendan Pearl - Graduate Researcher at the Department of Psychiatry

I recommend all students with a project related to mental health join the program, get involved and reap the benefits!

phd topics in mental health

Hannah Savage -Graduate Researcher at the Department of Psychiatry

I highly recommend this program to any PhD students in the field of mental health research.

phd topics in mental health

Phoebe Thomson - Graduate Researcher at the Department of Paediatrics

The Mental Health PhD Program creates an inspiring and supportive community of researchers who are united by a common passion for improving mental health and well-being.

phd topics in mental health

Annai Charlton - Graduate Researcher at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

The Mental Health PhD Program provides me with lots of different opportunities; networking, career development and the opportunity to ask experts from interdisciplinary fields for advice.

phd topics in mental health

"The MHPP has helped me develop skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have developed, such as being able to communicate about research to people who work in related fields but use very different research techniques (animal work or qualitative research). It’s also a very social program, and I’ve met a lot of other very friendly PhD students. Being an off-campus PhD student, I sometimes felt a bit disconnected from the university, but this program has helped alleviate this feeling. The new online Teams platform is great, I get to check it whenever I want and there are optional events to join. I’ve found lots of them very useful and I ended spending about 1.5 hours a fortnight engaged with the program (5 minutes a day reading updates and chatting to other students and 1 hour attending an event such as an expert discussion, watching an interview or a coffee moment). I’m hoping to meet you soon and feel free to contact me if you have any questions!"

Yara Toenders - Graduate Researcher at the Centre for Youth Mental Health

Being a part of the MHPP community has been one of the best parts of my PhD.

phd topics in mental health

Anna Ross, Graduate Researcher at the Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

How to apply?

The Mental Health PhD Program is offered by the University's School of Psychological Sciences, the Centre for Mental Health, the Department of Psychiatry, the Centre for Youth Mental Health and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health.

Graduate researchers at any stage of their PhD candidature and in any Department, Centre or School at the University of Melbourne are eligible to participate.

The Mental Health PhD Program is intended to be a supplement to the training graduate researchers receive in their home department. Program participants will remain enrolled in their current faculties and departments.


To be eligible, graduate researchers must be currently enrolled in a PhD, have their primary supervisor based at the University of Melbourne and be undertaking doctoral research on a topic related to mental health.

Prospective graduate researchers

If you are not currently enrolled, you will need to apply separately for entry to a PhD in a relevant field. This will generally involve finding an appropriate supervisor in a suitable academic Department, School or Faculty. Once you have commenced your mental health-related PhD course, you can then register to join the Mental Health PhD Program.

Check that you meet the University's eligibility and entry requirements to undertake a PhD, and find instructions on how to apply on MDHS' Graduate Research pages . You can also read more general information about the MDHS PhD course .


The application procedure is currently closed. Due to unforeseen technical issues, the opening for 2021 applications has unfortunately been delayed until February 8, 2020. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

Applications to join the Program can be submitted throughout the year and graduate researchers can join the Program at any time during their candidature.

If you meet the eligibility criteria and you are interested in meeting your peers from throughout the University of Melbourne and creating a more multidisciplinary understanding of mental health research then please apply below. We look forward to welcoming you to our community!

Apply for the Program

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us .

Frequently Asked Questions

What will i get out of the program.

It has never been more important for PhD students to be strategic about career moves, build broad networks and master the right skills to get into their career of choice. The Mental Health PhD Program offers you a platform to:

  • Increase your understanding of the multidisciplinary field of mental health
  • Save you time finding support and learning about events and resources at the University of Melbourne
  • Engage in professional development opportunities specific to the domain of mental health
  • Expand your CV
  • Present your work, to practice your conference talks or poster presentations
  • Get access to extra professional development opportunities workshops, lectures and events that are organised within the University of Melbourne PhD Program Network and only advertised to PhD students who are enrolled in one of the University of Melbourne PhD Programs
  • Socialise, share, reflect and learn with and from your peers.

What will the time investment be?

We understand that as a PhD student you have a busy schedule and often competing demands, so we have created an online platform that you can access when and where you like. As a member of the MHPP, we kindly ask you to meet the following time commitment of around three hours per month:

  • A weekly active contribution to the online platform. This can be done by posting a question, sharing a tip with your peers, replying to a question posted by another member, liking a post, etc (5-10 minutes per week).
  • Join our bi-weekly online events. We really encourage you to attend these live online events so you can ask any questions or join the discussion and share your expertise. That way we really can learn with and from each other. However, we understand you might not always be able to make it so we record most of our events so you can access them at a later point (one hour fortnightly).
  • Read any emails you get from the MHPP carefully and reply promptly when needed.

Do I need formal approval from my supervisor to be part of the Mental Health PhD Program?

As of 2020, the Mental Health PhD Program has a new model and formal proof of approval from your Primary Supervisor is no longer required. However, we strongly encourage you to discuss your enrolment into this specific program, as well as your professional development in general, with your supervisor before signing up.

Does the Mental Health PhD Program offer PhD positions?

This multidisciplinary PhD Program is an academic and professional development initiative for currently-enrolled PhD students who are researching a topic within Mental Health. Therefore, this program does not directly enrol students.

Eligible students will need to apply separately for entry to a PhD in a relevant field. This will typically involve finding an appropriate supervisor in a suitable academic Department, School or Faculty. Once students have commenced their mental health-related PhD course, they can register to join the Mental Health PhD Program, which is intended to be a supplement to the training that students receive in their home department.

How can I unsubscribe?

If you need to terminate your enrolment you can do so by unsubscribing from the Mental Health PhD Program Newsletter.

Where can I go for further information?

Please email Anna Schroeder at [email protected] with any questions or feedback. I’d love to hear from you.

This interdisciplinary PhD Program provides participants with the opportunity to become accomplished graduate researchers who are not only prepared to engage with their own discipline, but are also equipped with the capacity to place their work in a broader multidisciplinary context within mental health, maximising their graduate career outcomes.

If you have any questions about the Program or our events, please contact the Program Coordinator Anna Schroeder at [email protected] .

Program Co-Directors

Professor Nick Haslam Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

Professor Jane Pirkis Centre for Mental Health

Professor Chris Davey Department of Psychiatry

Associate Professor Kelly Allot Centre for Youth Mental Health

Professor Andrew Lawrence Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health

Operations Manager

Brendan Pearl Department of Psychiatry

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  • 14 December 2021

Depression and anxiety ‘the norm’ for UK PhD students

  • Chris Woolston 0

Chris Woolston is a freelance writer in Billings, Montana.

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PhD students in the United Kingdom are more likely than other educated members of the general public to report symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to a survey.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-03761-3

Hazell, C. M. et al. Humanit. Soc. Sci. Commun. 8 , 305 (2021).

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The Top 10 Most Interesting Mental Health Research Topics

In the United States, the majority of people have been diagnosed with at least one mental disorder. Once considered shameful, mental health issues are now being discussed more openly through various online platforms, such as the best mental health podcasts and blogs, which have made information more accessible. As a result, more people are seeking forms of mental healthcare and researchers are learning even more.

While research on mental health has come a long way, there is still a long way to go in destigmatizing mental health conditions and spreading mental health awareness. If you are looking for mental health research paper topics and are struggling to narrow down your list, take a look at the top 10 most interesting mental health research topics to help get you started.

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What makes a strong mental health research topic.

The best way for you to develop a strong mental health research topic is by first having a specific and well-defined area of interest. Your research topic should provide a clear and simple roadmap to help you focus your research paper. Additionally, consider your audience and the topic’s significance within the mental health field. What does it contribute?

Tips for Choosing a Mental Health Research Topic

  • Choose a topic that is interesting to you. You may be writing to share your findings with your peers, but your topic should excite you first and foremost. You will spend a significant amount of time on it, so it should be work you are eager to dive into.
  • Choose a fresh approach. There is an extensive amount of mental health research conducted by mental health professionals. Use your research skills to choose a topic that does more than just restate the same facts and information. Say something that hasn’t been said before.
  • Choose a topic that matters. The topic you choose should make a contribution to all the mental health education and research that already exists. Approach your topic in a way that ensures that it’s of significance within the field.
  • Choose a topic that challenges you. A sure-fire way to find out if your topic meets the criteria of being interesting, fresh, and significant, is if it challenges you. If it’s too easy, then there must be enough research available on it. If it’s too difficult, it’s likely unmanageable.
  • Choose a topic that’s manageable. You should aim to choose a topic that is narrow enough in its focus that it doesn’t overwhelm you. Consider what’s feasible for you to dedicate to the research in terms of resources and time.

What’s the Difference Between a Research Topic and a Research Question?

The purpose of a research topic is to let the reader know what specific area of mental health research your paper will focus on. It is the territory upon which your research paper is based. Defining your topic is typically the initial step of any research project.

A research question, on the other hand, narrows down the scope of your research and provides a framework for the study and its objectives. It is based on the research topic and written in the form of a question that the research paper aims to answer. It provides the reader with a clear idea of what’s to be expected from the research.

How to Create Strong Mental Health Research Questions

To create a strong research question, you need to consider what will help guide the direction your research takes. It is an important part of the process and requires strong research methods . A strong research question clearly defines your work’s specific focus and lets your audience know exactly what question you intend to answer through your research.

Top 10 Mental Health Research Paper Topics

1. the effects of social media platforms on the mental well-being of children.

The effects of social media platforms on the mental well-being of children is a research topic that is especially significant and relevant today. This is due to the increasing usage of online social networks by children and adolescents. Evidence shows a correlation between social media usage and increased self-harming behaviors, anxiety, and psychological distress.

2. The Psychology of Gender Identity, Inclusivity, and Diversity

With the conversations surrounding gender and identity in recent times, a research topic on the psychology of gender identity, inclusivity, and diversity is a good option. Our understanding of gender now, in the 21st century, has evolved and gender identity has become non-binary, more inclusive, and more diverse.

3. The Psychological Effects of Social Phobia on Undergraduate Students

Some of the most common mental illnesses in the United States are phobias, so the topic of the psychology and effects of phobias is interesting and relevant to the majority of people. There are various categories of phobias that have been identified by the American Psychiatric Association that you could choose to focus on.

4. Eating Disorders Among Teenagers and Adolescents

Eating disorders among teenagers and adolescents in the United States are prevalent, especially among young women. The statistics surrounding mental health issues show that 10 in 100 young women suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, as well as a preoccupation with food and body dysmorphia.

5. The Correlation Between Childhood Learning Disabilities and Mental Health Problems in Adulthood

When groups of people with learning disorders (LD) were compared with groups that had no known history of LD, a correlation between childhood LD and mental health issues in adulthood was found. This research is important because it helps us to understand how childhood LD increases mental health risks in adulthood and affects emotional development.

6. How Mental Disorder is Glamorized and Sensationalized in Modern Media

Shows and movies centered around the depiction of mental illness have become more popular in recent years. The portrayal of characters with mental illnesses can often be damaging and fail to take into account the complexities of mental disorders, which often leads to stigmatization and discrimination, and a reluctance to seek mental health care.

7. The Relationship Between Self-esteem and Suicide Rates Among Adolescents

A relationship between self-esteem and suicide rates among adolescents has been found when looking into their suicidal tendencies. This is more so the case with any individual who already suffers from a mental health issue. Low self-esteem has been linked to increased levels of depression and suicide ideation, leading to higher chances of suicide attempts among adolescents.

8. Destigmatizing Mental Illness and Mental Disorders

The rates at which people are diagnosed with mental illnesses are high. Even so, their portrayal in the media has resulted in the belief that those who suffer from a mental health issue or live in mental health facilities are dangerous. Conducting research on abnormal psychology topics and destigmatizing mental illness and mental disorders is important for mental health education.

9. Psychological Trauma and the Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Mental health statistics show that most abuse happens in childhood, causing long-lasting psychological trauma. The type of trauma caused by child abuse and childhood sexual abuse affects development in infants and children. It has been linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety, guilt, sexual issues, dissociative patterns, and relationship issues, to name a few.

10. Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Psychological Well-Being

There is no doubt about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and COVID-19 confinement on psychological well-being. The threat to public health, the social and economic stresses, and the various reactions by governments and individuals have all caused unexpected mental health challenges. This has affected behaviors, perceptions, and the ways in which people make decisions.

Other Examples of Mental Health Research Topics and Questions

Mental health research topics.

  • How trauma affects emotional development in children
  • The impact of COVID-19 on college students
  • The mental effects of bullying
  • How the media influences aggression
  • A comparative analysis of the differences in mental health in women and mental health in men

Mental Health Research Questions

  • Are digital therapy sessions as impactful as face-to-face therapy sessions for patients?
  • What are the best methods for effectively using social media to unite and connect all those suffering from a mental health issue in order to reduce their isolation?
  • What causes self-destructive behavior in some children?
  • Can introducing mental health topics in the school curriculum help to create understanding and reduce the stigmatization of mental disorders?
  • What are the most effective methods to improve brain health and emotional intelligence as we go through the aging process?

Choosing the Right Mental Health Research Topic

When choosing the right mental health research question, it is essential to figure out what single issue you want to focus on within the broader topic of mental conditions. The narrower your scope, the easier it will be to conduct thorough and relevant research. Vagueness can lead to information overload and a lack of clear direction.

However, even though it needs to be specific, your research question must also be complex enough to allow you to develop your research. If it’s too narrow in its focus, you won’t give yourself enough room to flesh out your findings as you build on your research. The key is to find the middle ground between the two.

Mental Health Research Topics FAQ

A mental disorder refers to any of the various conditions that affect and alter our behavior, thoughts, and emotions. More than half of Americans get diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their lives. They are common and manageable with the right support. Some mental illnesses are occasional, such as postpartum depression, while others are long-term, such as panic attacks.

Mental health research raises awareness of mental health disorders and promotes mental health care. It provides support and evidence for the effectiveness of mental health services and programs designed for psychiatric patients and those with mental health disorders. The information provided by the research helps us better understand mental illnesses and how best to approach treatment plans.

Behavioral health and emotional health are part of a person’s overall mental health since they are all interlinked and each one affects the other. When we speak of mental health, we are referring to behavioral, cognitive, and emotional well-being, which can also affect physical health.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the five main categories of mental illness include dementia, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, feeding and eating disorders, and personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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Research Areas

The Department of Mental Health covers a wide array of topics related to mental health, mental illness, and substance abuse. We emphasize ongoing research that enriches and stimulates the teaching programs. All students and fellows are encouraged to participate in at least one research group. Faculty and students from multiple disciplines work together within and across several major research areas:

Faculty are working to understand the distribution, causes and consequences of autism and developmental disabilities as well as the impact of public health policy on children and families.

Global Mental Health faculty develop, implement and evaluate measures and interventions to assess and meet mental health needs of communities around the world, with a focus on developing nations.

Mental Health and Aging

Faculty in the Mental Health and Aging Research Area conduct observational and intervention research aimed at enhancing cognitive and mental well being in older adults.

Mental Health and COVID-19

Understanding how mental health evolves as a result of this serious global pandemic will inform prevention and treatment strategies moving forward. 

Mental Health in the Workplace

At the Bloomberg School of Public Health, which houses the only department of mental health in a school of public health, we have a unique ability to define both the problems and potential solutions.

Mental Health Services and Policy

Faculty in this area study mental health and behavioral health services and supports in communities, educational institutions and employment settings. They aim to reduce risk, and provide effective long-term treatment.

The Methods program area develops and applies innovative qualitative and quantitative methods for public mental health research, with a focus on statistical methods and economic models.

Prevention Research

The Prevention Research faculty develop, test, refine and bring to scale prevention programs directed at a range of mental health and behavioral problems in children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.

Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetic Epidemiology

Faculty in this area research genetic factors and how they interact with the physical and social environment to affect the risk for mental disorders.

Psychiatric Epidemiology

Faculty in this area study the occurrence and distribution of mental and behavioral disorders across people, space and time, and examine the causes to develop support and treatment strategies.

School-based Mental Health

The Department of Mental Health views the education and schools as a key public health context. Multiple faculty members partner with local school systems to develop, refine, and test preventive interventions for school-aged children and aim to promote mental health as well as positive social, emotional, and behavioral development.

Social Determinants of Mental & Behavioral Health Area emphasizes the role of multilevel social and structural factors in shaping mental and behavioral health, such as stigma, social networks, structural racism and policies on housing, drug control, and criminal justice domestically and internationally.

Substance Use Epidemiology

Faculty in this area study the etiology and natural history of substance use, and develop and evaluate interventions to prevent and control substance use disorders.

The Department of Mental Health has projects focused on various aspects of violence such as suicide, intimate partner violence , and youth violence. Faculty and students from multiple disciplines work together within and across several major research areas.

Centers and Institutes

The department houses several school-based centers, and has a significant role in many others across the school. These are described below. Centers help bring together faculty, students, and community partners across multiple departments and schools to meet their particular missions in pursuit of improving public mental health.

  • Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
  • Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities
  • Center on Aging and Health
  • Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research
  • Suicide Prevention

Our Students and Faculty Work in Action

The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Mental Health Measurement Working Group developed key questions to add to existing large domestic and international surveys to measure the mental health impact of the pandemic.

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UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science

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This programme, funded in 2019, is the first of its kind in the UK, representing an investment of over £5m by the Wellcome Trust. It is based in the UCL Institute of Mental Health, and will recruit six students per year from 2020-2024.

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Tackling mental health along the PhD journey: spotlight on the PhD community

IRB Barcelona boasts an amazing PhD community comprising 90 young scientists from around the world ( 14 countries ). These talented individuals have decided to dive into a challenging 4-year journey in pursuit of knowledge and personal growth. A PhD is a huge undertaking emotionally, mentally and financially. Along this journey, PhD students experience a considerable degree of mental stress; however, mental health issues during doctoral studies are typically taboo, as if acknowledging them reflects weakness.

To get an idea of the extent of the problem, PhD students experience alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and stress . As graduate students, their risk of experiencing mental health issues is 6 times greater than for the general population1. Almost half of graduate students are depressed2, many reporting “more-than-average” or “tremendous” levels of stress connected to education, work, and financial concerns related to PhD studies3.

In recognition of the pressures experienced by its PhD community, IRB Barcelona backed the initiative of the Student Council to launch the first of a series of training sessions devoted to the mental health of the PhD community.

On 9 February, a virtual panel addressing “Mental Health for PhD students” sought to remove the stigma around mental health with help from four experts from varying backgrounds ( Anna Gutiérrez , Chris Barrett , Ramón Nogueras , and Anna Houstecka ). The panel’s goal was to provide the PhD community with actionable advice on how to cope with the stress, depression and anxiety so common to this collective. Also, techniques to deal with the fear of failure and the imposter syndrome were discussed.

Adrià Fernández , a PhD student in the Structural Bioinformatics and Network Biology lab and member of the Student Council says, “PhD studies are done in a highly competitive environment and students wrongly associate feelings of anxiety and depression with weakness. But stress is a normal response to pressure. The first step is to identify the problems and have the tools to learn what to do. In this context, this first panel session on PhD mental health is a step in the right direction and aims to arm our PhD community with resources to enable them to cope better.”

All this is closely linked to one of the topics covered by the panel, the so-called Impostor Syndrome.

Hanna Kranas , a PhD student in the Biomedical Genomics lab and member of the Student Council, says, “Impostor syndrome is where a person experiences a feeling of inadequacy. They feel that they are a “fraud”, that they are tricking people into believing that they are better than they really are.”

Adrià adds, “During the PhD, one of the many triggers of Impostor syndrome is when you realise that you are not going to fulfil all of the expectations that you had at the beginning.”

PhD studies are often bumpy, especially in research as those vital experiments may not give the expected results, thus frustrating the ambitions of making a breakthrough and publishing those much-valued research papers. So negative results from experiments are greatly feared among the PhD community.

In the context of feeling failure and the sensation of having wasted time, Valentina Ramponi , PhD student in the Cellular Plasticity and Disease lab and member of the Student Council makes an interesting comment on the value of experiments giving negative results and the need to change the current system. “Until very recently, negative results have never been published. However, in the last two years, you can publish if an animal trial didn’t work and this is very good also from an ethical point of view. Now there is also a new journal that publishes only negative results. In my opinion, this is amazing because it’s the real meaning of science,” she says. Indeed, these comments lead one to reflect that understanding why something failed can also contribute new knowledge to a given field. Valentina’s comment indicates that this reflection has been overlooked for many years.   

By definition of their respective professions, the two psychotherapists, Anna Gutiérrez and Chris Barratt , and psychologist, Ramón Nogueras , on the panel session have expertise in handling stress and in providing coping strategies. However, the fourth member of the panel, Anna Houstecka, breaks away from this profile and is an interesting case in point. After experiencing stress while doing her PhD in Economics in Barcelona, Anna decided to set up the PeacehD website to provide support to the PhD community.

 “My web project started to be formed spring last year when I came up with the name PeacehD and began thinking about all the ingredients of my own journey and how to best provide others the opportunity to improve their PhD experience”. With more time available under the lockdown conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and while simultaneously undertaking a postdoc at the Institute for Employment Research in Germany, Anna hatched the PeacehD initiative, which was launched in December 2020. Her website is divided into four main sections the PhD experience, support from professionals, blog, and resources. “All in all, the website is there to create a community of people who struggle with the same issues in their PhD, give them information, connect them, and offer them various options to deal with common issues,” she explains.  

Anna herself is not ashamed to say that she sought therapy during the first year of her PhD and she thinks access to personalised tools is crucial to navigate the PhD journey. “The therapist can find the best ways to change those negative patterns that may lead to high levels of anxiety or depression,” she says.

The need of PhD students for dedicated support is perhaps reflected by the fact that since the launch of PeacehD in December, 26 people have already signed up to be in a support group and 30 have replied to questionnaires. The website has had 140 visitors overall and it has 211 followers on Twitter.  

Apart from removing any shame attached to feelings of stress or anxiety and to talking about them and looking for solutions, Anna says, “I want to encourage the students to make their mental health a priority. It takes effort but it´s absolutely worth it!”

This first panel organised by the Student Council intends to be a step in this direction by providing a safe environment in which mental health issues can be openly acknowledged and discussed and in which the members of our talented PhD community can learn vital life skills that will serve them during their PhD journey and beyond.

  • Evans, T., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. et al. Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nat Biotechnol 36, 282–284 (2018).  https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.4089  
  • Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report (2014).  http://ga.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/wellbeingreport_summary_2014.pdf  
  • Smith, E. & Brooks, Z. Graduate student mental health 2015. University of Arizona, Graduate & Professional Student Council (2015)   http://nagps.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NAGPS_Institute_mental_health_survey_report_2015.pdf


phd topics in mental health

Thesis Helpers

phd topics in mental health

Find the best tips and advice to improve your writing. Or, have a top expert write your paper.

230 Current Mental Health Research Topics For Top Dissertation

mental health research topics

Mental health characterizes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It involves the taking of multiple approaches to care for these different areas.

Medical news today notes that our mental health determines how we handle stress, relate to other people, and make healthy and articulate choices.

Mental health research is fast becoming one of the most researched areas in health. With this, so many research works can be chosen from this field. Therefore, as a student writing your essay on mental health, you must conduct extensive research for sufficient information.

Structure Of Mental Health Research Paper Or Essay

Students often have ample information on the chosen mental health nursing research topics, but the challenge they often encounter is properly arranging these topics to communicate knowledge effectively. We’ve prepared a mental illness research paper outline to improve your research paper.

  • Abstract. Your abstract provides a summary of the area your topic will be based on and what the aim and objectives of this topic focus are. Your abstract is like a door that leads to your research, so you need to make it interesting and informative.
  • Introduction. The introduction is the foremost part of your research paper or essay. Your introduction should always be straightforward, touching across all the relevant information that will be further pieced out subsequently.
  • Body. This is the actual content of your research paper or essay. In the body, you are expected to assemble all the various subtitles related and relevant to your topic of interest. All your opinions, findings, research methodology, and discussions will be contained in the body. To create a rich, high quality research paper or essay, the body of your writing must examine relevant data.
  • Conclusion. Your conclusion is the part where you are expected to summarise your arguments, thereby restating your thesis. By doing this, you’re bringing everything you’ve examined into consciousness again to remind your readers of the main issues and how it has been developed in the course of your writing.
  • Reference List. In the course of your essay, you must have used different sources. As you go along, you should therefore ensure that you keep notes of the books, journals, articles you have read, ensuring that the reference style goes with what your university and college recommend for your class. This way, you’ll stick with what your school dictates as the reference style and be praised by your teachers or professors at the end of the school year. Your references also have to be current.

By using this structure your thesis or dissertation will be way more clear.

Characteristics Of Mental Health Essay

How do you recognize a good essay? How do you know that everyone will welcome your contributions to the mental health essays? It would help if you considered these tips:

  • Clear Grammar. In other words, your diction must be grand yet easily understood. If it’s difficult for one to efficiently and thoroughly grasp your work, it’s not great work, and the essay’s purpose could be jeopardized. It would help if you communicated in simple language.
  • Conciseness. Conciseness is simply communicating in as few words as possible. As the soul of communication, brevity makes your words last longer in the minds of readers. To achieve this, erase superfluous or elaborative words, be pointed in your writing, and make your sentences too passive.
  • Depth and Arguments. Your arguments must be intellectually in depth and high level. With different mental health topics to write about, you need to explore a topic whose arguments you can profoundly develop. With this, you’ll be able to turn the ideas into something exciting and engaging. To create a good essay or an engaging one, this is something your readers look forward to.
  • Clear Structure. You must structure your work to relate well with your mental illness research topics. This is the only way to make your readers follow your thoughts without stress. Thus, your essay or paper must have an introduction, a body, the conclusion, and a reference list.

This brief guide should help you have an idea of what a professor is looking for. And now here is a helpful list of topics to consider when writing your bachelor thesis or about mental health in general:

Research Questions About Mental Health

Since the subject, mental health is quite vast and includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, below are some of the best mental health research questions that allow the student to focus on a particular field of research.

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of delivering mental health care virtually?
  • Can mental health conditions limit how a person engages with technology?
  • How can physicians maximize the combination of existing treatment options with virtual mental health procedures?
  • Have virtual interventions been proven safe?
  • What are the measures put in place to ensure that mental health platforms are safe?
  • What different effects will the adoption of virtual meetups have on the patients’ appointment time?
  • Are virtual therapies as effective as physical therapies?
  • Can one ascertain total satisfaction from standard elements of therapy through virtual meetups?
  • Does virtual interaction create better avenues for minorities as compared to traditional interface?
  • Can the different virtual platforms be used to reach out to people with mental health problems effectively?
  • Does obesity affect mental health?
  • What are the possible symptoms of mental illness in family members?
  • At what point do people with mental illness become destructive?
  • What are the causes of anorexia?
  • Why does a person with mental illness begin to cut themselves?
  • How easily can one treat post-traumatic stress?
  • Does childbirth lead to depression?
  • Are mental illnesses more prevalent in men or women?
  • Is ADHD a mental illness?
  • What are the causes of ADHD in young adults?
  • Are mental illnesses prevalent in survivors of war?
  • Can OCD be termed a mental illness?
  • How can one tell when a person begins to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder?
  • Are movies, games, etc., some of the leading causes of depression in young adults?
  • How can one quickly ascertain if they’re mentally ill or not?
  • What are the side effects of drug abuse on mental health?
  • A study into medically proven ways of curing ADHD.
  • The impacts of ADHD on Young adults.
  • A study of the mental effects of excessive consumption of Marijuana
  • How ADHD and autism affect young people in the 21st century.
  • The mental challenges of living with learning disabilities.

Mental Health Research Paper Topics

Mental health is the psychological and emotional part of human health. Good mental health suggests good cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing. The following mental health research topics will provide multiple avenues for students to base their research topics on:

  • The relationship between depression and weight loss
  • The rise of eating disorders in teenagers and adolescents
  • The glamorization of mental illness in modern media
  • Why is it still somewhat taboo to speak openly about mental health?
  • The lasting psychological trauma of rape
  • PTSD in modern-day youth
  • How positive portrayals of mental illness in movies have helped destigmatize it
  • Violence in video games and violence in real life: is there a link between the two?
  • The effects of victim-blaming on rape victims
  • Is mental illness hereditary?
  • why mental health education is relevant in our society
  • ADHD in adults: regular, or a problem?
  • Harmful misconceptions about OCD
  • The relationship between physical health and mental wellness
  • Is postpartum depression a modern illness?
  • Why is a bipolar disorder more than a mood swing disorder
  • The relationship between childhood bullying and self-esteem issues in adults
  • Is mental illness more prevalent in men or women?
  • Advances in mental health education and research in the last decade
  • Living with mental health in the age of social media
  • Mental health and Nollywood: a study of mental illness portrayal in Nollywood
  • Mental health and social media: how social media has helped to destigmatize mental illness
  • Why schools should have functioning guidance counselors for students and teachers
  • The importance of including mental health topics in the school curriculum
  • The need to create safe spaces for people living with mental health issues.

Mental Health Topics To Write About

Your mental health deals with several health disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and personality disorders. In case your mental health research topics are based on the categorical aspects of mental health, the following are research topics on mental health that you can write about:

  • What is mental health?
  • Destigmatizing mental health discussions
  • Mental health education in Nigerian societies
  • Can exposure to violent games and movies cause people to become killers?
  • Are sociopaths born or made?
  • The importance of self-affirmation to goal achievement
  • Why therapy isn’t only for the mentally ill
  • Why you have to love yourself to be able to receive love from others
  • Living with social anxiety
  • Overcoming low self-esteem
  • Why OCD is not just about an obsession with keeping things clean
  • How self-loathing makes us self-destructive
  • The benefits of mental health support groups
  • How to handle bullying when your child is the aggressor
  • Why do we need time for ourselves
  • Is your friend group toxic?
  • On low self-esteem and managing relationships
  • Why it’s insensitive to refer to the mentally ill as crazy
  • Why do we sometimes feel unloved?
  • Why it is helpful to have supportive friends and family when going through a hard time
  • Medically proven ways to deal with a constant depressive episode
  • Why depression pills should be regulated
  • Why everyone needs access to pills to relax anxiety
  • The importance of antidepressants to neurotics
  • How to successfully manage the challenges of living with mental health challenges

Mental Illness Research Paper Topics

Mental illness is a range of mental conditions that affect the mind, how we think, our behaviors. If you’ve been looking for the best mental illness research paper topics, your search stops here. Find below mental illness topics to help with your research:

  • The difference between depression and sadness
  • Similarities between bipolar disorder
  • Treating mental disorders using medication: a study on the pros and cons
  • The effects of postpartum depression on family members
  • The relationship between bullying and eating disorders
  • Common misconceptions about mental illness
  • Mental illness in the media: positive influence or harmful perpetuation of stereotypes?
  • A study on serial killers: how their childhoods shaped who they became
  • Self-esteem issues as a trigger for eating disorders
  • A study on the compulsive nature of kleptomania
  • A study on how movies shape our perception of mental illness
  • Identifying signs and symptoms of sociopathy in children
  • A study on the relationship between paranoia and impulsive actions
  • The relationship between suicide and low self-esteem
  • Genetics and mental illness: a study on mental illness in three generations of family members
  • A study on how past traumatic events shape our present
  • Why eating disorders are mental disorders
  • The portrayal of mental illness in the media in the past fifty years
  • Improvements in mental illness diagnosis and treatment in the past century
  • Examining the effects of mental illness on the lives of teenagers: a qualitative study
  • Examining the impacts of antidepressants in curbing depression
  • A study into the root cause of mental health challenges in young adults
  • Investigating the causes of mental illness in 80+ adults
  • The lingering cases of mental health challenges in older people
  • The need for the free accessibility of mental health facilities by students.

Research Topics In Psychiatry

Psychiatry is a vast field of study in medicine. Any psychiatry topics must make the research journey more straightforward. That said, the following are interesting topics in psychiatry:

  • Defects of tobacco addiction on the human brain
  • Treating schizophrenia: most effective ways
  • ADHD: more prevalent in adults than children?
  • Perfectionism and OCD: Where do we draw the line?
  • Why we should look out for symptoms of depression
  • How has the raid of COVID-19 affected the mental health of people?
  • What are the factors that provoke depression?
  • Bipolar disorders as symptoms of mental illness
  • What is the potency of talk therapy in relating to suicidal patients
  • Anxiety disorder: symptoms and remedies
  • Practical measures in overcoming alcohol abuse in men
  • Depression: cyberbullying as a tool for enhancing depressive tendencies in young adults
  • The adverse effect of antidepressants on brain activities
  • Genetics: A yardstick for determining mental health illness
  • Lack of sleep as a tool for building anxiety
  • Stress as a buildup for depression
  • Side effects of psychiatric treatments on older people
  • The effects of COVID-19 on brain activity
  • Preventing the excessive usage of sedatives in young adults
  • Aging as a measure of depression
  • Treating mental illness: Applying classical soul music as a means in the 21st century
  • Child mental disorders: curbing unhealthy family relationships
  • Postpartum depression is the leading cause of mental illness amongst women
  • A study on the distinction between Bipolar I and Bipolar II
  • The need for the destigmatization of psychiatric patients

Research Topics In Mental Health Nursing

Mental health nursing is a highly essential field of study that should be considered:

  • The challenges involved in psychiatric nursing care
  • Mental health risks involved in working with psychiatric patients
  • Merits and demerits of mental health nursing careers
  • Self-discipline in psychiatry nursing fields
  • Nursing ethics: what a nurse should know
  • Approaches to nursing theories
  • Talk therapy in nursing fields
  • Dealing with exposed trauma: a typical nursing experience
  • Psychiatry nursing: a walk in the park?
  • Limitation of responsibilities by nurses on psychiatric patients
  • The essence of skilled nurses in clinical psychology
  • Effective patients’ recovery: the roles of nurses in present-day psychiatry
  • Practical application of nursing experience in psychiatry wards
  • Forbidden practices in nursing homes
  • Is psychiatry nursing predominantly a woman’s job?
  • Promoting nursing staff shortage in health sectors
  • Evaluating anti stigmatization by nurses in psychiatric wards
  • Damning effects of psychiatric nursing on nurses
  • Mental health illness: are nurses exempted?
  • Nursing practices applied in treating children and adults
  • Helpful ways mental health nurses administer care to patients
  • Ways care for mental health patients can be improved in the hospitals
  • Effective ways of caring for mental health patients
  • Why mental health nursing should be a specialized healthcare role
  • Importance of mental health nursing
  • Why mental health nursing should be prioritized as a specialist role

Critical Analysis Research Paper Topics In Mental Health

The following are some critically analyzed paper topics in mental health that will make your research more accessible and give more depth to your essay.

  • Problems related to physical and mental health issues in men and women
  • Supporting children’s mental health in the 21st century
  • Bipolar disorder problem as a mental health challenge
  • Mental health and eating disorders
  • A mental health project: a research methodology on curbing mental illnesses
  • Connecting poverty and mental health problems
  • Mental health counseling: a way in the wilderness
  • Mental health administration: a necessity in present-day lives
  • Mental health and spirituality
  • Effects of marijuana on mental health
  • The critical role of school psychology in the mental health movement
  • Code of ethics for mental health professions worldwide
  • Mental health counselors: professionalism in workplaces
  • Mental health benefits in the employee benefits packages
  • Eliminating stigmatization in mental health diagnoses
  • Community mental health as a tool for curbing disorders
  • Mental health counselor: a much-needed remedy
  • Mental health issues in the criminal justice system
  • Refugees and their mental health
  • Medical ethics in mental health care
  • Child’s mental health and depression in adulthood: a qualitative study
  • Transitions in late life: a typical study of mental health concerns
  • Mental health nursing: health and illness
  • Mental health specialist jobs and career
  • Mental health: screening and assessment of nursing personnel
  • The role of female mental health in socio-cultural conditions
  • Schizophrenia: a dominant mental health disorder
  • Mental health practice model for public institutions
  • Mental health: research methodologies issues
  • Mental health strategies at the workplace

Good Research Questions About Mental Health

Good research questions must be willing to provide concise and thorough answers. Over time, researchers have generated questions that border on mental health that have proven highly effective.

  • Should the use of antidepressants be accessible to children?
  • Why do people need access to mental health care?
  • What is the importance of prioritizing mental health care?
  • Is self-care the same as mental health care?
  • Is there a correlation between self-care and mental health care?
  • How to prioritize mental health
  • The study of the growing mental health challenge amongst young adults
  • Growth of depression in third-world countries
  • The effects of poverty on mental health
  • A study on the effects of mental health education on the treatment of the mentally ill
  • Institutionalized bullying in schools and its effects on students’ mental health
  • The importance of mother’s mental health in the aftermath of childbirth
  • Addressing mental health problems in children below the age of ten
  • The effects of sudden environmental changes on childrens’ mental health
  • The focus on mental health in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic
  • Harmful effects of social media on the mental health of Nigerian youth
  • Fostering mental health discourse among males
  • Trolling and cancel culture and their effects on the mental health of their victims
  • The benefits of mental health apps in the lives of individuals
  • Measures to promote mental health awareness in religious spheres

Mental Illness Thesis Ideas

By nature, there are several mental illness thesis ideas you can explore. The following are proven great thesis ideas that concern mental health.

  • Addressing inadequate measures to combat mental illness in Nigerian societies
  • A study on the marginalization of the mentally ill in the society
  • Mental illness stigma and seeking help: how mental health stigma affects
  • The effects of mental illness stigma in people’s seeking of treatment
  • Embracing mental illness discourse in schools and the workplace
  • Why mental illness is an illness and not a figment of the imagination
  • The relationship between mental illness and violence
  • The relationship between childhood abuse and mental illness
  • The benefits of support systems to the mentally ill
  • Mental illness and the perpetuation of gun violence among youth in the united states
  • A study of mental illness portrayals in Nigerian media
  • Mental illness portrayals in Nigerian media: harmful or beneficial?
  • A study on the harmful effects of certain medications on mental disorders
  • Tackling common misconceptions about mental disorders among members of the older generation
  • Advancements in mental illness treatment methods
  • Breakthroughs in mental illness research in the 50s and 60s
  • A study on ethically questionable mental health research experiments in the last 50 years
  • Living with mental illness in the age of toxic internet culture
  • The increase in cases of depression and anxiety in youths between the early 2000s and late 2010s
  • Mental illness and criminality: a study on the relationship between the two
  • Drug abuse: a study on how college students engage in drugs
  • A study of the nicotine content of harmful drugs
  • A critical study of the early stage of mental illness in patients.

Need Help With Your Thesis?

Suppose you are a college or university student who needs high-level advanced psychology dissertation help in preparing for your thesis deadlines and require thesis help from experts in this field. Be assured that we have professional writers online who are professors, teachers, and native writers from various fields. They can assist you in preparing high-quality research works, proofreading, editing, and writing services, all at a cheap rate. You can be sure of custom-written works that will secure you high grades.

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  • v.20(3); Fall 2021

PhDepression: Examining How Graduate Research and Teaching Affect Depression in Life Sciences PhD Students

Logan e. gin.

† Research for Inclusive STEM Education Center, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281

Nicholas J. Wiesenthal

§ Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816

Katelyn M. Cooper

Graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression compared with the general population. However, few studies have examined how graduate school specifically affects depression. In this qualitative interview study of 50 life sciences PhD students from 28 institutions, we examined how research and teaching affect depression in PhD students and how depression in turn affects students’ experiences teaching and researching. Using inductive coding, we identified factors that either positively or negatively affected student depression. Graduate students more commonly mentioned factors related to research that negatively affected their depression and factors related to teaching that positively affected their depression. We identified four overarching aspects of graduate school that influenced student depression: the amount of structure in teaching and research, positive and negative reinforcement, success and failure, and social support and isolation. Graduate students reported that depression had an exclusively negative effect on their research, primarily hindering their motivation and self-confidence, but that it helped them to be more compassionate teachers. This work pinpoints specific aspects of graduate school that PhD programs can target to improve mental health among life sciences graduate students.


In 2018, researchers found that graduate students were more than six times as likely to report experiencing depression and anxiety compared with the general population and subsequently declared a “graduate student mental health crisis” ( Evans et al. , 2018 ; Flaherty, 2018 ). Calls to identify which factors exacerbate graduate student mental health problems followed (“The Mental Health of PhD Researchers,” 2019; Woolston, 2019a ). However, few studies have taken an inductive approach to identifying what aspects of graduate school in particular affect student mental health. More commonly, large quantitative studies propose a limited number of factors that may affect student mental health that participants select from, few of which directly relate to graduate research or teaching ( Peluso et al. , 2011 ; Levecque et al. , 2017 ; Evans et al. , 2018 ; Liu et al. , 2019 ). In this interview study, we focus on depression in life sciences PhD students and examine which specific aspects of research and teaching graduate students report as affecting their depression. We also explore how depression affects students’ experiences in graduate school.

The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how one feels, the way one thinks, and how one acts ( American Psychiatric Association, 2020 ). Depression is characterized by nine symptoms: depressed mood; markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities; reduced ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness; feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt; recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts or plans; insomnia or hypersomnia; significant change in appetite or weight; psychomotor agitation or retardation; and fatigue or loss of energy ( American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ; Schmidt and Tolentino, 2018 ). For depression to be diagnosed, the presence of at least five of the symptoms is required most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks in addition to the occurrence of either depressed mood or diminished interest or pleasure ( American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ). In the general U.S. population, depression affects approximately 6.7% of individuals and is estimated to affect 16.6% of individuals at some point in their lifetime.

Graduate students are far more likely to report experiencing depression compared with the general population ( Evans et al. , 2018 ; Barreira et al. , 2020 ). Specifically, a recent study of master’s and PhD students in programs across the world, spanning a variety of disciplines, found that 39% of graduate students reported having moderate to severe depression ( Evans et al. , 2018 ). Similar studies have demonstrated high rates of depression in graduate students in specific disciplines such as economics ( Barreira et al. , 2020 ), biochemistry ( Helmers et al. , 1997 ), pharmacology ( Helmers et al. , 1997 ), and physiology ( Helmers et al. , 1997 ). Depression rates have surged in recent years among graduate students ( American College Health Association, 2014 , 2019 ). Talking about depression has become more socially acceptable, particularly among younger adults ( Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2015 ; Lipson et al. , 2019 ), which may have contributed to the number of students willing to reveal that they are struggling with mental health. Additionally, depression is highly related to burnout, defined as a work-related chronic stress syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment ( Maslach et al. , 2001 ; Bianchi et al. , 2014 ). Graduate work environments appear to be increasingly characterized as stressful and demanding ( American College Health Association, 2014 , 2019 ; Woolston, 2017 ), which may also be contributing to the increase in graduate depression rates.

Increasingly, scientists, psychologists, and education researchers are recognizing graduate student mental health as a concern and calling for further investigation of graduate student mental health in hopes of identifying interventions to improve graduate student quality of life (“The Mental Health of PhD Researchers,” 2019; Woolston, 2019a , b ). For example, in 2019, Nature added a question to its annual survey of PhD students asking students from around the world whether they had sought help for anxiety or depression, and more than one-third (36%) confirmed they had ( Woolston, 2019b ). Additionally, notable publication outlets such as Nature (“The Mental Health of PhD Researchers,” 2019), Scientific American ( Puri, 2019 ), and Science ( Pain, 2018 ) have published blogs or editorials spotlighting the need to improve graduate student mental health.

Some recent studies have sought to uncover the factors affecting depression in graduate students. Primarily, survey studies with predetermined factors that researchers hypothesized impact student mental health have identified poor mentor–mentee relationships ( Peluso et al. , 2011 ; Evans et al. , 2018 ; Hish et al. , 2019 ; Liu et al. , 2019 ; Charles et al. , 2021 ), financial stress ( Hish et al. , 2019 ; Jones-White et al. , 2020 ; Charles et al. , 2021 ), and lack of work–life balance ( Evans et al. , 2018 ; Liu et al. , 2019 ) to be associated with depression or depressive symptoms among graduate students in various disciplines. Other variables shown to be predictive of depression include low research self-efficacy, defined as low confidence in one’s ability to do research ( Liu et al. , 2019 ), difficulty publishing papers ( Liu et al. , 2019 ), hours worked per week ( Peluso et al. , 2011 ), and perceived institutional discrimination ( Charles et al. , 2021 ). Factors that appear to be protective of depressive symptoms include social support ( Charles et al. , 2021 ), mastery, defined as the extent to which individuals perceive themselves to be in control of the forces that impact their lives ( Hish et al. , 2019 ), positive departmental social climate ( Charles et al. , 2021 ), optimism about career prospects ( Charles et al. , 2021 ), and sense of belonging to one’s graduate program ( Jones-White et al. , 2020 ). While these studies have identified some depression-related factors associated with graduate school broadly and emphasize the importance of positive mentor–mentee relationships, few studies have explored factors specifically associated with research and teaching, the two activities that graduate students engage in most frequently during their time in a program. Additionally, the extant literature has primarily focused on surface causes of graduate student depression, yet understanding the underlying causes may be key to developing meaningful interventions. For example, while it is well established that student perception of poor mentorship is related to student depression ( Evans et al. , 2018 ; Hish et al. , 2019 ; Liu et al. , 2019 ; Charles et al. , 2021 ), it is less well understood what specific behaviors mentors exhibit and how such behaviors negatively affect the cognitive and behavioral underpinnings of graduate student depression. Without this knowledge, it is difficult to develop strategies to help mentors be more inclusive of students.

Theories of depression seek to explain the causes of depression. No theoretical model is widely accepted as an overarching framework for depression within the psychological and psychiatric communities ( Mcleod, 2015 ; Ramnerö et al. , 2016 ); instead, there are a number of models addressing how different aspects of depression are associated with the disorder. Arguably, the three most prominent models are cognitive ( Beck et al. , 1979 ), behavioral ( Martell et al. , 2001 ), and psychodynamic ( Busch et al. , 2016 ). In brief, cognitive theories focus on an individual’s beliefs and propose that changes in thinking precede depressive symptoms; for example, negative views of oneself, the world, and the future are thought to be common for individuals with depression ( Beck et al. , 1979 ; Leahy, 2002 ). Behavioral theories emphasize that depression is a result of one’s interaction with the environment; depressive symptoms are thought to be the result of decreased reward, lack of positive reinforcement, encouragement of depressive or passive behaviors, and discouragement of healthy behaviors ( Lewinsohn, 1974 ; Martell et al. , 2001 ; Carvalho et al. , 2011 ). Psychodynamic theories of depression consider the role of feelings and behaviors in the etiology and persistence of depressive symptoms; these theories often focus on 1) one’s biology and temperamental vulnerabilities, 2) earliest attachment relationships, and 3) childhood experiences associated with frustration, helplessness, loss, guilty, or loneliness ( Busch et al. , 2016 ). While each group of theories has been critiqued and no one theory fully explains one’s experience with depression ( Mcleod, 2015 ; Ramnerö et al. , 2016 ), we propose that each may be helpful in understanding how aspects of graduate school may affect depression among PhD students.

The thoughts and behaviors associated with depression may in turn affect students’ experiences in graduate school, particularly their experiences with research and teaching. While no studies have examined how depression explicitly affects graduate students’ research experiences, studies have identified ways in which depression can affect students’ experiences in undergraduate research ( Cooper et al. , 2020a , b ). Undergraduate researchers report that their depression negatively affected their motivation, ability to concentrate and remember, intellectual engagement, and creativity in research ( Cooper et al. , 2020b ). Undergraduates described that their depression also caused them to be overly self-critical, less social, and ultimately negatively affected their research productivity. Additionally, undergraduates have been reluctant to share their depression with others in the lab, because they fear that they will be judged ( Cooper et al. , 2020b ). While these studies provide some insight into how depression may affect graduate students’ experience in research, there is much less information about how depression may affect graduate teaching.

In this study, we interviewed 50 PhD students in the life sciences who self-identified with having depression with the intent of answering two research questions that address gaps in the literature: 1) What specific aspects of graduate research and teaching affect PhD student depression? 2) How does PhD students’ depression affect their experience in research and teaching?

Student Interviews

This study was done under an approved Arizona State University Institutional Review Board protocol (no. 00011040).

In Fall 2019, we surveyed graduate students by sending an email out to program administrators of all life sciences graduate programs in the United States that are listed in U.S. News & World Report (2019) . Of the 259 graduate programs that we contacted, 75 (29.0%) program administrators agreed to forward our survey to students enrolled in their graduate programs. Of the 840 graduate students who participated in the survey, 459 (54.6%) self-identified as having depression based on general demographic questions on the survey. Of the 459 students who identified as having depression, 327 (71.2%) agreed to be contacted for a follow-up interview. In Summer 2020, we sent a recruitment email out to the 327 students who identified as having depression, asking to interview them about their experiences with depression in a PhD program. We specifically did not require that students be diagnosed with depression in order to participate in the interview study. We did not want to bias our sample, as mental health care is disproportionately unavailable to Black and Latinx individuals, as well as to those who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds ( Howell and McFeeters, 2008 ; Kataoka et al. , 2002 ; Santiago et al. , 2013 ). Of the students who were contacted, 50 PhD students (15.3%) enrolled across 28 life sciences PhD programs completed an interview.

The interview script was based on a previous interview script that we had developed, which successfully elicited what aspects of research affect depression in undergraduates and how depression affects their research ( Cooper et al. , 2020a ). Our previous work has shown that research experiences do not exclusively worsen depression, but that aspects of research can also help students manage their depression ( Cooper et al. , 2020a ). As such, our interview questions explored what aspects of research helped students manage their depression (positively affecting depression), and what aspects worsened students’ depression (negatively affecting depression). Additionally, we hypothesized that other prominent aspects of graduate school, such as teaching, would also affect PhD student depression and revised the interview script to include questions focused on examining the relationship between depression and teaching. We asked students what aspects of graduate research and teaching made their depression worse and what aspects helped them manage their depression. Participants were invited to come up with as many aspects as possible. We also asked how students perceived their depression affected their research and teaching. With the knowledge that we would be conducting interviews during summer of 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the pandemic had likely exacerbated graduate student depression ( Chirikov et al. , 2020 ), we directed students to not reference aspects of research and teaching that were uniquely related to the pandemic (e.g., teaching remotely or halted research) when discussing the relationship between research, teaching, and depression. We were specifically interested in aspects of teaching and research that affected student depression before the pandemic and would presumably affect student depression afterward. We conducted think-aloud interviews with four graduate students who identified as having depression to ensure that our questions would not offend anyone with depression and to establish cognitive validity of the interview script by ensuring that each student understood what each question was asking. The interview script was iteratively revised after each think-aloud interview ( Trenor et al. , 2011 ). A final copy of the interview script can be found in the Supplemental Material.

All interviews were conducted using Zoom by one of two researchers (L.E.G. or K.M.C.). The average interview time was about 45 minutes. After the interview, all participants were sent a short survey to collect their demographics and additional information about their depression (a copy of the survey can be found in the Supplemental Material). Participants were provided a small monetary gift card in exchange for their time. All interviews were deidentified and transcribed before analysis.

Interview Analysis

Three researchers (L.E.G., N.J.W., and K.M.C.) independently reviewed 12 of the same randomly selected interviews to explore each idea that a participant expressed and to identify recurring themes ( Charmaz, 2006 ). Each researcher took detailed analytic notes during the review. After, the three researchers met to discuss their notes and to identify an initial set of recurring themes that occurred throughout the interviews ( Saldaña, 2015 ). The authors created an initial codebook outlining each theme and the related description. Together, the authors then reviewed the same set of five additional interviews to validate the themes outlined in the codebook and to identify any themes that may have been missed during the initial review. The researchers used constant comparison methods to compare quotes from the interviews to each theme and to establish whether any quotes were different enough from a particular theme to warrant an additional code ( Glesne and Peshkin, 1992 ). Together, the three researchers revised the codebook until they were confident that it captured the most common themes and that no new themes were emerging. A final copy of the codebook can be found in the Supplemental Material. Two authors (L.E.G. and N.J.W.) used the final codebook to code five randomly selected interviews (10% of all interviews) and their Cohen’s κ interrater score was at an acceptable level (κ = 0.94; Landis and Koch, 1977 ). Then, one researcher (N.J.W.) coded the remaining 45 interviews. In the text, we present themes mentioned by at least 10% of interviewees and use quotes to highlight themes. Some quotes were lightly edited for clarity.

Author Positionality

Some of the authors identify as having depression and some do not. One author had completed a PhD program (K.M.C.), one author was in the process of completing a PhD program (L.E.G.), and two authors were undergraduates (N.J.W. and I.F.) at the time when the interviews and analyses took place.

Interview Participants

Fifty PhD students agreed to participate in the study. Students were primarily women (58%), white (74%), and continuing-generation college students (78%). Twelve percent of students were international students, and the average age of the participants was 28 years old. While 20% of students were unsure of their career goals, 32% of students planned to pursue a career in academia, and 24% were planning to pursue a career in industry. Students reported how severe they perceived their depression to be, on average, during the time they had spent in their PhD programs. Most students reported their depression as either moderate (50%) or severe (28%). Eighty percent of students reported being diagnosed with depression, and 74% reported receiving treatment for depression. Participants were at different stages in their PhD programs ranging from first year to sixth year or more. Three students had graduated between the time they completed the initial survey and when they participated in the interview in Summer 2020. Students self-reported their main research areas and represented a broad range, with ecology and evolutionary biology (26%), animal science (14%), molecular biology (14%), and neurobiology (10%) being the most common. Eighty-six percent of students had experience teaching undergraduates, primarily as teaching assistants (TAs), at the time of the interviews. All student demographics are summarized in Table 1 .

Participant demographics

The Effect of Research on Graduate Student Depression

Students more commonly identified ways that research negatively affected their depression than ways research positively affected their depression. Considering all factors that students listed and not just those that were most common, students on average listed two ways in which an aspect of research negatively affected their depression and one way in which an aspect of research positively affected their depression.

The most commonly reported aspect of research that worsened students’ depression was experiencing failures, obstacles, or setbacks in research. Specifically, students cited that failed experiments, failed research projects, and the rejection of manuscripts and grants was particularly difficult for their depression. Conversely, students highlighted that their depression was positively affected when they were able to make substantial progress on their research projects; for example, if they wrote part of a manuscript or if an experiment worked. Students also explained that accomplishing smaller or mundane research tasks was helpful for their depression, both because they felt as though they were checking off a box and also because it allowed them to focus on something other than the negative thoughts often associated with depression.

Students also highlighted that the unstructured nature of graduate research worsened their depression. Specifically, students described that, in graduate research, there are often no clear directions, sets of guidelines, or deadlines to help structure their day-to-day activities. Without this structure, students need to rely on their own motivation to outline goals, accomplish tasks, or seek help, which participants described can be difficult when one is experiencing a depressive episode. However, students also felt as though the unstructured nature of research benefited their depression, because it allowed for flexibility. Those who did not have frequent deadlines or strict schedules were able to not conduct research on days when they needed to recover from a depressive episode or schedule research around therapy or other activities that had a positive impact on their depression. Finally, students highlighted that their passion for their research was protective against depression. Their love for the subject of their research or thinking about how their work may have a positive impact on others could positively affect their motivation or mood.

Students described that their relationships with others in the lab also affected their depression. Specifically, if their mentors or others in their lab had unreasonable or overwhelming expectations of them, it could make them feel as though they would never be able to meet such expectations. Research also provides an environment for students to constantly compare themselves with others, both those in supervisory roles as well as peers. Notably, when students mentioned comparing themselves with others, this comparison never made them feel good about themselves, but was exclusively detrimental to their depression; they felt as though they would never be able to accomplish what others had already accomplished. Students’ relationships with their mentors also seemed to have a notable impact on their depression. Having a positive relationship with their mentors or a mentor who provided psychosocial support positively affected their depression, whereas perceiving a negative relationship with their mentors, particularly a mentor who provided consistently harsh or negative feedback, was detrimental. Students who had absent mentors or mentors who provided infrequent technical support and guidance also felt as though this situation worsened their depression, because it prevented or prolonged their success in research. Finally, students highlighted that conducting graduate research can be isolating, because you are often working on something different from those in the lab or because those outside graduate school cannot relate to the stress and struggles associated with research. However, in instances in which students were able to collaborate with others, this could be protective against depression, because it gave students a sense of comradery or validated their feelings about specific aspects of research. The most common research-related factors that students reported negatively and positively affected their depression and example student quotes of each factor are reported in Tables 2 and ​ and3, 3 , respectively.

Research-related factors that PhD students reported negatively affected their depression

Research-related factors that PhD students reported positively affected their depression

The Effect of Teaching on Graduate Student Depression

We asked all graduate students who had teaching experience ( n = 43) how teaching affected their depression. Graduate students more commonly identified ways that teaching positively affected their depression than ways teaching negatively affected their depression. On average, considering all factors that graduate students listed and not just those that were most common, participants listed two ways in which teaching positively affected their depression and one way in which teaching negatively affected their depression.

Graduate students most commonly highlighted that teaching provided positive reinforcement from undergraduates, which helped them manage their depression. This positive reinforcement came in multiple forms ranging from formal teaching evaluations to positive verbal comments from undergraduates about how good a graduate student was at teaching to watching undergraduates accomplish academic goals or grasp complex concepts. A subset of graduate students highlighted that teaching was good for their depression, because it was something they were passionate about or that they genuinely enjoyed. As such, it was a source of happiness, as was being able to collaborate and form friendships with other TAs or instructors. Some graduate students also acknowledged that they felt confident teaching, often because they had mastered content that undergraduates had not. However, this was not always the case; some graduate students highlighted that a lack of teaching training and preparation negatively affected their self-efficacy as instructors, which in turn exacerbated their depression. This was further exacerbated by the pressure that graduate students put on themselves to perform well as instructors. The potential to have a negative impact on undergraduates and their learning experiences could worsen students’ depression by increasing the stress surrounding their performance as a teacher. Additionally, some graduate students received negative reinforcement from undergraduates, in the form of negative comments on formal teaching evaluations or disrespectful behavior from undergraduates such as groans or eye rolls, which graduate students explained negatively affected their self-efficacy, further worsening their depression.

Students also highlighted that teaching could negatively affect their depression because it interfered with the time they felt they needed to be spending on research or added to the large number of responsibilities they had as graduate students. However, some students welcomed time away from research; teaching sometimes served as a distraction from research-related stressors. Students also highlighted that teaching is structured, which positively affected their depression. That is, there are concrete tasks, such as grading, that need to be accomplished or places that the graduate student needs to be during a specific time. This structure helped motivate them to accomplish teaching goals, even if they were feeling a lack of motivation because of their depression. The most common teaching-related factors that graduate students reported negatively and positively affected their depression and example student quotes for each factor are reported in Tables 4 and ​ and5, 5 , respectively.

Teaching-related factors that PhD students reported negatively affected their depression

a Forty-three out of the 50 students who participated in the study had experience teaching undergraduates either as a TA or as an instructor of record. We only considered the responses from the TAs with teaching experiences when calculating the percent of students who reported each factor.

Teaching-related factors that PhD students reported positively affected their depression

The Effect of Depression on Graduate Research

In the interviews, we asked graduate students how their depression affected their graduate research, if at all. They identified three primary ways in which depression could affect research, all of which were negative. The most common way depression affected research was interfering with students’ motivation, which in turn affected their productivity. Students described that their productivity was affected immediately, for example, struggling to execute daily tasks like collecting or analyzing data. However, graduate students described that their lack of motivation ultimately resulted in larger consequences, such as delays in getting papers submitted and published. In fact, some graduate students explicitly stated that they felt as though they would have been able to graduate earlier if they had not had depression. The second way in which depression affected graduate students’ research is that it interfered with their ability to focus or concentrate. Students primarily explained that the lack of focus did not delay their research but caused their research to be less enjoyable or made them frustrated because they had to expend additional mental energy to execute tasks. Depression also caused students to be less confident or overly critical of themselves. Specifically, if an experiment did not go right or they experienced rejection of a manuscript, they tended to internalize it and blame themselves. This lack of confidence often inhibited students’ abilities to make decisions about research or take risks in research. They described frequently second-guessing themselves, which made decisions and taking risks in research more difficult. The most common ways students reported that their depression affected their research and example student quotes are reported in Table 6 .

Self-reported ways that depression affected PhD students’ research or the student as a researcher

The Effect of Depression on Teaching

Graduate students described one positive way and two negative ways that depression affected their teaching. Students explained that, because they had experienced depression, they were more compassionate and empathetic toward the undergraduates in their courses. Specifically, they felt they could better understand some of the struggles that undergraduates experience and were sometimes more likely to be flexible or lenient about course requirements and deadlines if an undergraduate was struggling. However, graduate students reported that depression also negatively affected their teaching. Specifically, depression could cause graduate students to feel disconnected or disengaged from undergraduates. It could also cause graduate students to feel as though they had a lack of energy or felt down when teaching. The common self-reported ways that depression affected PhD students’ teaching and example quotes are reported in Table 7 .

Self-reported ways that depression affected PhD students’ teaching or the graduate student as an instructor

a Forty-three out of the 50 students who participated in the study had experience teaching undergraduates either as a TA or as an instructor of record. We only considered the responses from the TAs with teaching experiences when calculating the percent of students who reported each theme.

Despite the increasing concern about graduate student mental health among those in the scientific community ( Pain, 2018 ; “The Mental Health of PhD Researchers,” 2019; Puri, 2019 ), there is a lack of information about how specific aspects of science PhD programs affect students with depression. This is the first study to explicitly investigate which particular aspects of research and teaching affect depression among life sciences PhD students and how depression, in turn, affects graduate students’ experiences in research and teaching. Overall, graduate students highlighted factors related to teaching and research that both alleviated and exacerbated their symptoms of depression. Graduate students more commonly brought up ways that research negatively affected their depression, than ways that it positively affected their depression. Conversely, graduate students more commonly mentioned ways that teaching had a positive effect on their depression compared with a negative effect. The requirement and opportunity to teach differs among life sciences graduate programs ( Schussler et al. , 2015 ; Shortlidge and Eddy, 2018 ). As such, future research should investigate whether the amount of teaching one engages in during graduate school is related to levels of graduate student depression. Despite differences in how teaching and research affect student depression, this study unveiled factors that protect against or worsen depressive symptoms. Specifically, four overarching factors affecting graduate student depression emerged from the interviews: 1) Structure; 2) Positive and Negative Reinforcement; 3) Failure and Success; 4) Social Support and Isolation. We discuss here how each of these factors may positively and negatively affect graduate student depression.

One stark contrast between research and teaching is the amount of structure in each activity. That is, students expressed that research goals are often amorphous, that there are not concrete instructions for what needs to be accomplished, and that there is often no set schedule for when particular tasks need to be accomplished. Conversely, with teaching, graduate students often knew what the goals were (e.g., to help students learn), exactly what they needed to accomplish each week (e.g., what to grade, what to teach), and when and where they needed to show up to teach (e.g., a class meets at a particular time). Graduate students highlighted that a lack of structure, particularly in research, was detrimental for their depression. Their depression often made it difficult for them to feel motivated when there was not a concrete task to accomplish. Major depression can interfere with executive function and cognition, making goal setting and goal achievement particularly difficult ( Elliott, 1998 ; Watkins and Brown, 2002 ). In fact, research has documented that individuals with depression generate less specific goals and less specific explanations for approaching a goal than individuals who do not have depression ( Dickson and Moberly, 2013 ). As such, it may be particularly helpful for students with depression when an activity is structured, relieving the student from the need to articulate specific goals and steps to achieve goals. Students noted that the lack of structure or the flexibility in research was helpful for their depression in one way: It allowed them to better treat their depression. Specifically, students highlighted that they were able to take time to go to therapy or to not go into the lab or to avoid stressful tasks, which may be important for successful recovery from a depressive episode ( Judd et al. , 2000 ).

Compared with conducting research, many participants reported that the concrete tasks associated with teaching undergraduates were helpful for their depression. This is supported by literature that illustrates that concrete thinking, as opposed to abstract thinking, can reduce difficulty making decisions in individuals with depression ( Dey et al. , 2018 ), presuming that teaching often requires more concrete thinking compared with research, which can be more abstract. Additionally, cognitive-behavioral treatments for depression have demonstrated that developing concrete goals for completing tasks is helpful for individuals with depression ( Detweiler-Bedell and Whisman, 2005 ), which aligns with graduate students’ perceptions that having concrete goals for completing teaching tasks was particularly helpful for their depression.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Graduate students reported that the negative reinforcement experienced in research and teaching had a significant negative effect on their depression, while the positive reinforcement students experienced only in teaching had a positive effect. Notably, students did not mention how positive reinforcement affected their depression in the context of research. Based on student interviews, we predict that this is not because they were unaffected by positive reinforcement in research, but because they experienced it so infrequently. Drawing from behavioral theories of depression, the concept of response-contingent positive reinforcement (RCPR; Lewinsohn, 1974 ; Kanter et al. , 2004 ) helps explain this finding. As summarized by Kanter and colleagues (2004) , RCPR describes someone seeking a response and being positively reinforced; for example, graduate students seeking feedback on their research are told that what they have accomplished is impressive. Infrequent RCPR may lead to cognitive symptoms of depression, such as low self-esteem or guilt, resulting in somatic symptoms of depression, such as fatigue and dysphoria ( Lewinsohn, 1974 ; Martell et al. , 2001 ; Manos et al. , 2010 ). RCPR is determined by three factors. 1) How many potential events may be positively reinforcing to an individual. For example, some people may find an undergraduate scoring highly on an exam in a class they are teaching to be reinforcing and others may find that they only feel reinforced when an undergraduate explicitly compliments their teaching. 2) The availability of reinforcing events in the environment. If graduate students’ mentors have the ability to provide them with RCPR but are never able to meet with them, these reinforcing events are unavailable to them. 3) The instrumental behavior of an individual. Does the individual exhibit the behavior required to obtain RCPR? If graduate students do not accomplish their research-related tasks on time, they may not receive RCPR from their mentor. If individuals are not positively reinforced for a particular behavior, they may stop exhibiting it, further exacerbating the depressive cycle ( Manos et al. , 2010 ). Therefore, the lack of positive reinforcement in research may be particularly damaging to graduate students, because it may discourage them from completing tasks, leading to additional depressive symptoms. Conversely, teaching presents many opportunities for positive reinforcement. Every time graduate students teach, they have the opportunity to receive positive reinforcement from their students or to witness a student’s academic accomplishment, such as an undergraduate expressing excitement when they understand a concept. As such, it is not surprising that positive reinforcement was the primary teaching-related factor that graduate students reported helped with their depression. Despite the positive reinforcement of teaching for graduate students with depression, we are not suggesting that graduate students should take on additional teaching loads or that teaching should be viewed as the sole respite for graduate students with depression. Overwhelming students with increased responsibilities may counteract any positive impact that teaching could have on students’ depression.

Failure and Success

Failure and success affected student depression, but only in the context of research; contrary to research, students rarely mentioned concrete metrics for success and failure in teaching. While graduate students highlighted receiving positive or negative reinforcement from undergraduates, they did not relate this to being a “successful” instructor. It is unsurprising that graduate students did not mention failing or succeeding at teaching, given that experts in teaching agree that it is difficult to objectively evaluate quality teaching ( d’Apollonia and Abrami, 1997 ; Kember et al. , 2002 ; Gormally et al. , 2014 ). In fact, the lack of teacher training and knowledge about how to teach effectively negatively affected student depression, because it could cause students to feel unprepared as an instructor. Integrating teacher training into graduate programs has been championed for decades ( Torvi, 1994 ; Tanner and Allen, 2006 ; Schussler et al. , 2015 ); however, the potential for such training to bolster graduate student mental health is new and should be considered in future research. With regard to graduate students’ research, the concept of success and failure was far more concrete; students mentioned failing in terms of failed experiments, research projects, and rejected manuscripts and grant proposals. Successes included accepted manuscripts, funded grant proposals, and concrete progress on significant tasks, such as writing or conducting an experiment that yielded usable data. Failure has been shown to negatively affect depression among undergraduate researchers ( Cooper et al. , 2020a ), who are hypothesized to be inadequately prepared to experience failure in science ( Henry et al. , 2019 ). However, it is less clear how well prepared graduate students are to experience failure ( Simpson and Maltese, 2017 ). Drawing from cognitive theories of depression, depression is associated with dysfunctional cognitive schemas or dysfunctional thinking that can lead individuals with depression to have negative thoughts about the world, themselves, and the future and to interpret information more negatively than is actually the case (called negative information-processing biases; Beck, 1967 ; Beck et al. , 1979 ; Gotlib and Krasnoperova, 1998 ; Maj et al. , 2020 ). Related to failure, individuals with dysfunctional cognitive schemas may harbor beliefs such as if something fails at work (or in graduate research), they are a failure as a person or that a small failure can be as detrimental as a larger failure ( Weissman, 1979 ; Miranda and Persons, 1988 ). As such, setbacks in research may be particularly difficult for PhD students with depression. Graduate students in our study also mentioned how failing in research was often out of their control, particularly failure related to experiments and research projects. The extent to which one feels they can control their environment is important for mental health, and lower estimates of control have been hypothesized to be an important factor for depression ( Grahek et al. , 2019 ). Therefore, this feeling of being unable to control success in research may further exacerbate student depression, but this would need to be tested. Importantly, these findings do not imply that individuals with depression are unable to cope with failure; they only suggest that individuals perceive that failure in science can exacerbate their depression.

Social Support and Isolation

Graduate students reported that feelings of isolation in research could worsen their depression. Specifically, they highlighted that it can be difficult for their mental health when their friends outside graduate school cannot relate to their struggles in research and when others in their research group are not working on similar projects. One study of more than 1400 graduate students at a single university found that feeling isolated from fellow graduate students and faculty positively predicted imposter phenomenon ( Cohen and McConnell, 2019 ), defined as the worry that they were fooling others about their abilities and that their fraudulence would be exposed ( Clance and Imes, 1978 ), which is positively correlated with depression among college students ( McGregor et al. , 2008 ). Developing a positive lab environment, where undergraduates, graduate students, and postgraduates develop positive relationships, has been shown to positively affect undergraduates ( Cooper et al. , 2019 ) and may also positively affect graduate students who experience such feelings of isolation. Graduate students in this study described that both teaching and research had the potential to be a source for relationship development and social support. Students who described positive collaborative relationships in research and teaching felt this had a positive impact on their depression, which aligns with a review of studies in psychiatry concluding that being connected to a large number of people and having individuals who are able to provide emotional support by listening or giving advice is protective against depression ( Santini et al. , 2015 ), as well as a study that found that social support is protective against depression, specifically among the graduate population ( Charles et al. , 2021 ).

These four factors provide clear targets for graduate programs looking to improve the experiences of students with depression. For example, increasing structure in research could be particularly helpful for graduate students with depression. Ensuring that students have concrete plans to accomplish each week may not only positively impact depression by increasing structure, but ultimately by increasing a student’s success in research. Research mentors can also emphasize the role of failure in science, helping students realize that failure is more common than they may perceive. Increasing opportunities for positive reinforcement in teaching and research may be another avenue to improving student mental health. Providing students with appropriate teacher training is a first step to enhancing their teaching skills and potential for positive reinforcement from undergraduate students ( Schussler et al. , 2015 ). Additionally, teaching evaluations, a common form of both positive and negative reinforcement, are known to be biased and disadvantage women, People of Color, and those with non–English speaking backgrounds ( Fan et al. , 2019 ; Chávez and Mitchell, 2020 ) and arguably should not be used to assess teaching. In research, mentors can make an effort to provide positive feedback or praise in meetings in addition to critiques. Finally, to provide social support to graduate students with depression, graduate programs could consider creating specific initiatives that are related to supporting the mental health of graduate students in their departments, such as a support group for students to meet and discuss their experiences in graduate school and how those experience pertain to their mental health.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

In this study, we chose to only interview students with the identity of interest (depression), as is common with exploratory studies of individuals with underserved, underrepresented, or marginalized identities (e.g. Carlone and Johnson, 2007 ; Cooper and Brownell, 2016 ; Barnes et al. , 2017 , 2021 ; Downing et al. , 2020 ; Gin et al. , 2021 ; Pfeifer et al. , 2021 ). However, in future studies, it would be beneficial to also examine the experiences of individuals who do not have depression. This would provide information about the extent to which specific aspects of graduate research and teaching are disproportionately beneficial or challenging for students with depression. In this study, we did not explicitly examine whether there was a relationship between students’ identities and depression because of the small number of students in particular demographic groups. However, a theme that occurred rather infrequently (but is included in the Supplemental Material) is that discrimination or prejudice in the lab or academia could affect depression, which was reported exclusively by women and People of Color. As such, disaggregating whether gender and race/ethnicity predicts unique factors that exacerbate student depression is an important next step in understanding how to create more equitable and inclusive research and teaching environments for graduate students. Moreover, our sample included a significant number of students from ecology and evolutionary biology PhD programs, which may limit the generalizability of some findings. It is important to acknowledge potential subdisciplinary differences when considering how research may affect depression. Additionally, some of the factors that affect student depression, such as lack of teaching training and confidence in teaching, may be correlated with time spent in a graduate program. Future quantitative studies would benefit from examining whether the factors that affect student depression depend on the student’s subdiscipline and time spent in the graduate program. The primary focus of this study was the relationship between depression and graduate teaching/research. Many of the factors that emerged from the interviews are also associated with burnout ( Bianchi et al. , 2014 ; Maslach et al. , 2001 ). Burnout and depression are known to be highly related and often difficult to disaggregate ( Bianchi et al. , 2014 ). It was beyond the scope and design of this study to disaggregate which factors relate exclusively to the condition of burnout. Additionally, the interviews in this study were collected at a single time point. Thus, we are unable to differentiate between students who had depression before starting graduate school and students who experienced depression after starting graduate school. Future longitudinal studies could explore the effects of students’ experiences in research and teaching on their depression over time as well as on long-term outcomes such as persistence in graduate programs, length of time for degree completion, and career trajectory. This study identified a number of factors that graduate programs can address to benefit graduate student mental health, and we hope that future studies design and test interventions designed to improve the experiences of graduate students in teaching and research.

In this interview study of 50 life sciences PhD students with depression, we examined how graduate research and teaching affect students’ depressive symptoms. We also explored how depression affected graduate students’ teaching and research. We found that graduate students more commonly highlighted ways that research negatively affected their depression and ways that teaching positively affected their depression. Four overarching factors, three of which were related to both teaching and research, were commonly associated with student depression, including the amount of structure provided in research and teaching, failure and success, positive and negative reinforcement, and social connections and isolation. Additionally, graduate students identified depression as having an exclusively negative effect on their research, often hindering motivation, concentration, and self-esteem. However, they did note that depression made them more compassionate teachers, but also could cause them to have low energy or feel disconnected when teaching. This study provides concrete factors that graduate programs can target in hopes of improving the experiences of life sciences PhD students with depression.

Important Note

There are resources available if you or someone you know is experiencing depression and want help. Colleges and universities often have crisis hotlines and counseling services designed to provide students, staff, and faculty with treatment for depression. These can often be found by searching the university website. Additionally, there are free 24/7 services such as Crisis Text Line, which allows you to text a trained live crisis counselor (text “CONNECT” to 741741; Text Depression Hotline, 2019 ), and phone hotlines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). If you would like to learn more about depression or depression help and resources near you, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of American website: https://adaa.org ( Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2019 ) and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: http://dbsalliance.org ( Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 2019 ).


We are incredibly grateful to the 50 graduate students who were willing to share their personal experiences with us. We thank Sara Brownell, Tasneem Mohammed, Carly Busch, Maddie Ostwald, Lauren Neel, and Rachel Scott for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this work. L.E.G. was supported by an NSF Graduate Fellowship (DGE-1311230). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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‘You have to suffer for your PhD’: poor mental health among doctoral researchers – new research

phd topics in mental health

Lecturer in Social Sciences, University of Westminster

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Cassie Hazell has received funding from the Office for Students.

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PhD students are the future of research, innovation and teaching at universities and beyond – but this future is at risk. There are already indications from previous research that there is a mental health crisis brewing among PhD researchers.

My colleagues and I studied the mental health of PhD researchers in the UK and discovered that, compared with working professionals, PhD students were more likely to meet the criteria for clinical levels of depression and anxiety. They were also more likely to have significantly more severe symptoms than the working-professional control group.

We surveyed 3,352 PhD students, as well as 1,256 working professionals who served as a matched comparison group . We used the questionnaires used by NHS mental health services to assess several mental health symptoms.

More than 40% of PhD students met the criteria for moderate to severe depression or anxiety. In contrast, 32% of working professionals met these criteria for depression, and 26% for anxiety.

The groups reported an equally high risk of suicide. Between 33% and 35% of both PhD students and working professionals met the criteria for “suicide risk”. The figures for suicide risk might be so high because of the high rates of depression found in our sample.

We also asked PhD students what they thought about their own and their peers’ mental health. More than 40% of PhD students believed that experiencing a mental health problem during your PhD is the norm. A similar number (41%) told us that most of their PhD colleagues had mental health problems.

Just over a third of PhD students had considered ending their studies altogether for mental health reasons.

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There is clearly a high prevalence of mental health problems among PhD students, beyond those rates seen in the general public. Our results indicate a problem with the current system of PhD study – or perhaps with academic more widely. Academia notoriously encourages a culture of overwork and under-appreciation.

This mindset is present among PhD students. In our focus groups and surveys for other research , PhD students reported wearing their suffering as a badge of honour and a marker that they are working hard enough rather than too much. One student told us :

“There is a common belief … you have to suffer for the sake of your PhD, if you aren’t anxious or suffering from impostor syndrome, then you aren’t doing it "properly”.

We explored the potential risk factors that could lead to poor mental health among PhD students and the things that could protect their mental health.

Financial insecurity was one risk factor. Not all researchers receive funding to cover their course and personal expenses, and once their PhD is complete, there is no guarantee of a job. The number of people studying for a PhD is increasing without an equivalent increase in postdoctoral positions .

Another risk factor was conflict in their relationship with their academic supervisor . An analogy offered by one of our PhD student collaborators likened the academic supervisor to a “sword” that you can use to defeat the “PhD monster”. If your weapon is ineffective, then it makes tackling the monster a difficult – if not impossible – task. Supervisor difficulties can take many forms. These can include a supervisor being inaccessible, overly critical or lacking expertise.

A lack of interests or relationships outside PhD study, or the presence of stressors in students’ personal lives were also risk factors.

We have also found an association between poor mental health and high levels of perfectionism, impostor syndrome (feeling like you don’t belong or deserve to be studying for your PhD) and the sense of being isolated .

Better conversations

Doctoral research is not all doom and gloom. There are many students who find studying for a PhD to be both enjoyable and fulfilling , and there are many examples of cooperative and nurturing research environments across academia.

Studying for a PhD is an opportunity for researchers to spend several years learning and exploring a topic they are passionate about. It is a training programme intended to equip students with the skills and expertise to further the world’s knowledge. These examples of good practice provide opportunities for us to learn about what works well and disseminate them more widely.

The wellbeing and mental health of PhD students is a subject that we must continue to talk about and reflect on. However, these conversations need to happen in a way that considers the evidence, offers balance, and avoids perpetuating unhelpful myths.

Indeed, in our own study, we found that the percentage of PhD students who believed their peers had mental health problems and that poor mental health was the norm, exceeded the rates of students who actually met diagnostic criteria for a common mental health problem . That is, PhD students may be overestimating the already high number of their peers who experienced mental health problems.

We therefore need to be careful about the messages we put out on this topic, as we may inadvertently make the situation worse. If messages are too negative, we may add to the myth that all PhD students experience mental health problems and help maintain the toxicity of academic culture.

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Cassie M Hazell

January 12th, 2022, is doing a phd bad for your mental health.

9 comments | 72 shares

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Poor mental health amongst PhD researchers is increasingly being recognised as an issue within higher education institutions. However, there continues to be unanswered questions relating to the propensity and causality of poor mental health amongst PhD researchers. Reporting on a new comparative survey of PhD researchers and their peers from different professions, Dr Cassie M Hazell and Dr Clio Berry find that PhD researchers are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health compared to their peers. Arguing against an inherent and individualised link between PhD research and mental health, they suggest institutions have a significant role to play in reviewing cultures and working environments that contribute to the risk of poor mental health.

Evidence has been growing in recent years that mental health difficulties are common amongst PhD students . These studies understandably have caused concern in academic circles about the welfare of our future researchers and the potential toxicity of academia as a whole. Each of these studies has made an important contribution to the field, but there are some key questions that have thus far been left unanswered:

  • Is this an issue limited to certain academic communities or countries?
  • Do these findings reflect a PhD-specific issue or reflect the mental health consequences of being in a graduate-level occupation?
  • Are the mental health difficulties reported amongst PhD students clinically meaningful?

We attempted to answer these questions as part of our Understanding the mental health of DOCtoral researchers (U-DOC) survey. To do this we surveyed more than 3,300 PhD students studying in the UK and a control group of more than 1,200 matched working professionals about their mental health. In our most recent paper , we compared the presence and severity of mental health symptoms between these two groups. Using the same measures as are used in the NHS to assess symptoms of depression and anxiety, we found that PhD students were more likely to meet criteria for a depression and/or anxiety diagnosis and have more severe symptoms overall. We found no difference between these groups in terms of their overall suicidality. However, survey responses corresponding to past suicidal thinking and behaviour, and future suicide intent were generally highly rated in both groups.

42% of PhD students reported that they believed having a mental health problem during your PhD is the norm

We also asked PhD students about their perceptions and lived experience of mental health. Sadly, 42% of PhD students reported that they believed having a mental health problem during your PhD is the norm. We also found similar numbers saying they have considered taking a break from their studies for mental health reasons, with 14% actually taking a mental health-related break. Finally, 35% of PhD students have considered ending their studies altogether because of their mental health.

We were able to challenge the working theory that the reason for our findings is that those with mental health difficulties are more likely to continue their studies at university to the doctoral level. In other words, the idea that doing a PhD doesn’t in any way cause mental health problems and these results are instead the product of pre-existing conditions. Contrary to this notion, we found that PhD students were not more likely than working professionals to report previously diagnosed mental health problems, and if anything, when they had mental health problems, these started later in life than for the working professionals. Additionally, we found that our results regarding current depression and anxiety symptoms remained even after controlling for a history of mental health difficulties.

phd topics in mental health

The findings from this paper and our other work on the U-DOC project  has highlighted that PhD students seem to be particularly vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems. We found several factors to be key predictors of this poor mental health ; specifically not having interests and relationships outside of PhD studies, students’ perfectionism, impostor thoughts, their supervisory relationship, isolation, financial insecurity and the impact of stressors outside of the PhD .

the current infrastructure, systems and practices in most academic institutions, and in the wider sector, are increasing PhD students’ risk of mental health problems and undermining the potential joy of pursuing meaningful and exciting research

So, does this mean that doing a PhD is bad for your mental health? Not necessarily. There are several aspects of the PhD process that are conducive to mental health difficulties, but it is absolutely not inevitable. Our research (and our own experiences!) suggests that doing a PhD can be an incredibly positive experience that is intellectually stimulating, personally satisfying, and gives a sense of meaning and purpose. We instead believe a more appropriate conclusion to draw from our work is that the current infrastructure, systems and practices in most academic institutions, and in the wider sector, are increasing PhD students’ risk of mental health problems and undermining the potential joy of pursuing meaningful and exciting research.

Reducing this issue to the common rhetoric that “PhD studies cause mental health problems” is problematic for several reasons: Firstly, it ignores the many interacting moving parts at work here that variably increase and reduce risk of poor mental health across people, time, and place. Secondly, it does not acknowledge the pockets of incredibly good practice in the sector we can learn from and implement more widely. Finally, it reinforces the notion that poor mental health is the norm for PhD students which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy- and itself ignores the joy of pursuing a thesis in something potentially so personally meaningful. Nonetheless, a significant paradigm shift is needed in academia to reduce the current environmental toxins so that studying for a PhD can be a truly enjoyable and fulfilling process for all.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our  Comments Policy  if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

Image Credit: Geralt via Pixabay. 

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About the author

phd topics in mental health

Dr Cassie M Hazell (she/her) is a lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Westminster. Her research is on around mental health, with a special interest in implementation science. She is the co-founder of the international Early Career Hallucinations Research (ECHR) group and Early-Mid Career representative on the Research Council at her institution.

phd topics in mental health

Dr Clio Berry is a Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Evaluation and Improvement in the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. She is interested in the application of positive and social psychology approaches to mental health problems and social outcomes for young people and students. Her work spans identification of risk and resilience factors in predicting mental health and social problems and their outcomes, and in the development and evaluation of clinical and non-clinical interventions.

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My own experience of doing a PhD (loneliness, the lack of routine, imposter syndrome) has led to my discouraging my daughter, who has a history of mental health issues, from considering it at the moment, despite her having the academic aptitude and even a topic. I would hazard a guess that the problems are worse in the humanities than in the applied sciences, where most PhD students tend to work as part of research teams and be well supported in more structured environments.

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Fascinating research… I had a terrible PhD, but most of the mental health issues arose after the fact. If you ever conducted another survey it would be interesting to include those who had recently finished a PhD.

Looking at your follow up BJPsyche paper, I noticed you haven’t gone into the correlation between subject and mental health. I’d be interested to know how sciences vs humanities compared.

I see that your work is very restrained in discussing the causes of mental health issues, and I’m sure you have plenty of hypothesis. In my experience, a key factor is that there is no mechanism to hold supervisors to account for the quality of their supervision. (Linking to the point above, I believe in the sciences supervisors with poor outcomes do suffer repetitional damage – not so in the humanities.)

I’d also add that the UK’s Viva system, which I believe is unique globally, is a recipe for disaster – years of work evaluated over the course of just a couple of hours by examiners who, again, are not held accountable in any way.

I wrote my experience up here: https://medium.com/the-faculty/i-had-a-brutal-phd-viva-followed-by-two-years-of-corrections-here-is-what-i-learned-about-vivas-5e81175aa5d

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    The Mental Health PhD Program has also allowed me to form strong bonds with other PhD students and meet eminent researchers in the mental health field." ... is an academic and professional development initiative for currently-enrolled PhD students who are researching a topic within Mental Health. Therefore, this program does not directly enrol ...

  8. Doctoral researchers' mental health and PhD training ...

    In order to assess participants' perceived mental health and satisfaction in relation to their PhD training, we created questions specifically targeting these topics considering the context of ...

  9. Research Degrees (PhD)

    The Centre for Global Mental Health specialises in providing high quality PhD training opportunities in topics related to Global Mental Health, and offers students a broad range of possible PhD supervisors to gain the skills they will need for a career in mental health research. The research projects are mainly based in low and middle income ...

  10. Depression and anxiety 'the norm' for UK PhD students

    Forty-two percent of PhD students agreed with the statement that "developing a mental-health problem during your PhD is the norm". The narrative that mental-health problems are just a part of ...

  11. Mental Health Research Topics

    Top 10 Mental Health Research Paper Topics. 1. The Effects of Social Media Platforms on the Mental Well-Being of Children. The effects of social media platforms on the mental well-being of children is a research topic that is especially significant and relevant today. This is due to the increasing usage of online social networks by children and ...

  12. Programs

    The Department of Mental Health offers a doctoral level program, a master's program in health science and a combined bachelors/masters program. Master's Master of Health Science (MHS) in Mental Health. The MHS is a nine-month degree program that provides a foundation in the research methods and content-area knowledge essential to public mental ...

  13. Research and Practice

    Research Areas. The Department of Mental Health covers a wide array of topics related to mental health, mental illness, and substance abuse. We emphasize ongoing research that enriches and stimulates the teaching programs. All students and fellows are encouraged to participate in at least one research group. Faculty and students from multiple ...

  14. Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges

    Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges. Approximately one-third of Ph.D. students are at risk of having or developing a common psychiatric disorder like depression, a recent study reports. Although these results come from a small sample—3659 students at universities in Flanders, Belgium, 90% of whom were studying the ...

  15. PDF College Student Mental Health: Current Issues, Challenges, Intervention

    it would be a natural progression for them to receive mental health support via technology-based channels (Palmer, 2015). This dissertation reviews current students' mental health issues and the challenges and feasibility of incorporating technology-based mental health interventions on campus. Findings suggest that participants experienced

  16. UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science

    The UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science is an opportunity for students to train in a wide range of fields relevant to mental health research. This programme, funded in 2019, is the first of its kind in the UK, representing an investment of over £5m by the Wellcome Trust. It is based in the UCL Institute of Mental Health, and will ...

  17. PhD/MPhil Mental Health • City, University of London

    As an PhD/MPhil researcher at City's Centre for Mental Health Research, you will be contributing to a body of knowledge and expertise.Making a direct impact on people's health and well-being. Our research on Mental Health addresses the complex links between mental and physical ill-health. We cover including some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing society, such as dementia and ...

  18. Tackling mental health along the PhD journey: spotlight on the PhD

    Along this journey, PhD students experience a considerable degree of mental stress; however, mental health issues during doctoral studies are typically taboo, as if acknowledging them reflects weakness. To get an idea of the extent of the problem, PhD students experience alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety and stress. As graduate ...

  19. Resource Guide: Mental Health Support for PhD Students

    It's no secret that getting your PhD can be stressful. In fact, one study showed that more than 40% of PhD students surveyed struggled with their mental health while getting their degree. Struggling with your mental health could mean dealing with anxiety that keeps you up the night before a large exam, feeling less excited about a dissertation topic you used to love, or experiencing a ...

  20. 230 Mental Health Research Topics For Academic Writing

    Good mental health suggests good cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing. The following mental health research topics will provide multiple avenues for students to base their research topics on: The relationship between depression and weight loss. The rise of eating disorders in teenagers and adolescents.

  21. PhDepression: Examining How Graduate Research and Teaching Affect

    Despite the increasing concern about graduate student mental health among those in the scientific community (Pain, 2018; "The Mental Health of PhD Researchers," 2019; Puri, 2019), there is a lack of information about how specific aspects of science PhD programs affect students with depression. This is the first study to explicitly ...

  22. 'You have to suffer for your PhD': poor mental health among doctoral

    More than 40% of PhD students met the criteria for moderate to severe depression or anxiety. In contrast, 32% of working professionals met these criteria for depression, and 26% for anxiety. The ...

  23. Is doing a PhD bad for your mental health?

    Sadly, 42% of PhD students reported that they believed having a mental health problem during your PhD is the norm. We also found similar numbers saying they have considered taking a break from their studies for mental health reasons, with 14% actually taking a mental health-related break. Finally, 35% of PhD students have considered ending ...

  24. Best Online Ph.D.s In Counseling Of 2024

    For aspiring counselors, psychologists and therapists, a Ph.D. in counseling is the last rung of the educational ladder—the springboard to an advanced role in the field. A doctorate in ...

  25. Intro to Mental Health Interventions: B HLTH 497 (100% asynchronous

    Class Info: B HLTH 497 - Selected Topics in Health; SLN: 21883; Dr. Hoa Appel. Introduction to Mental Health Interventions. This course will introduce students to integrated mental health care that includes primary care, with a focus on clinical interventions. Students will explore the concepts of health equity, cultural responsiveness, and ...