I've often heard that students (science/math Ph.D. candidates, in particular) who study too diligently and for long periods over longer spells develop mental health problems like depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, etc. That students should "take a break" or they'll "crack" is also an adage resounding on campuses worldwide.

Are there any merits to these claims?

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    Obligatory Voltaire: "Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively." (thinkexist.com/quotation/…)
    – mellamokb
    Jun 3, 2011 at 15:53
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    I hope any answers will consider the many confounding factors like: the age that mental illnesses are normally diagnosed overlapping with the age of higher studies, that student will mental illnesses are likely to drop-out (sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090706161302.htm), that students may have more access to medical assistance (sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070624141841.htm).
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 3, 2011 at 17:36
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    To be pedantic, by definition "too much" means "an amount so large as to be bad", so the answer would be "yes". The real question is "can studying for long periods cause mental illness?".
    – Raedwald
    Sep 16, 2011 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


Here's a list of things to do to manage stress:

  1. Decrease or Discontinue Caffeine
  2. Regular Exercise
  3. Relaxation/Meditation
  4. Sleep
  5. Time-outs and Leisure
  6. Realistic Expectations
  7. Reframing
  8. Belief Systems
  9. Ventilation/Support System
  10. Humor

Notice how many of these the hard-working students are NOT doing?

High stress is associated with mental illness. Here and here are two studies specifically about students (there are many more making the connection regardless of occupation), though the first of them mentions that Norwegian med school students overall don't have more mental health issues than the general population.

In conclusion: Not relaxing can lead to stress-related issues, but you don't need to specifically study quantum electrodynamics to become depressed - studying hard and worrying about passing that exam (and possibly being a foreign student in a strange culture, see here) suffices.

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