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Mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers: exploring the relationship between mental health literacy, help-seeking behaviour, psychological distress, and wellbeing

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Studies of Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) have highlighted that the population may be at risk of developing symptoms of common mental health problems. Early intervention and preventative measures may reduce this risk, such as improving mental health literacy (MHL). However, it is unclear what the relationship is between MHL and outcomes such as help-seeking behaviour, psychological distress and wellbeing, in PGRs. Therefore, the current study aimed to explore this relationship. A secondary aim of this study was to compare data collected from PGRs with undergraduate students (AUTHOR, 2017). Two-hundred and forty one PGRs from two universities in England completed an anonymous online quantitative survey, with PGRs reporting on their MHL (O’Connor & Casey, 2015), help-seeking behaviour (Wilson et al., 2005), psychological distress (Kessler et al., 2005), and wellbeing (Tennant et al., 2007), in addition to demographic and academic characteristics. Results indicated that 70% of PGRs were experiencing symptoms categorised as mild to severe psychological distress. Stepwise multiple regressions revealed that lower levels of wellbeing predicted higher levels of distress and lower levels of help-seeking behaviour. Compared with undergraduate students, PGRs in this study reported higher levels of psychological distress compared to undergraduate students, after adjusting for age, sex, and previous diagnosis of a mental health problem, as well as MHL, after adjusting for sex and previous diagnosis (p < 0.05). No significant differences were observed between the groups for help-seeking behaviour, or wellbeing (all p > 0.05). Study findings suggest that PGRs, at the start of the academic year, are distressed and may not be seeking appropriate help for their concerns. Further studies should explore the environmental factors that may exacerbate mental health concerns beyond that associated with a challenging degree, within the PGR population.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 8 Feb 2021


  • Mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate researchers

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