Scientific Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical Analysis of Mental Health and Suicidal Behavior Among Graduate Students




In the modern world, the average person deals with a seemingly unbearable amount of stress, whether it be directed toward finance, education or even social and physical activities.  People are expected to be able to change when the times change, and that means that as technology and knowledge advances, so too should the general public – quite frankly this is easier said than done.  Pricing goes up in the United States every year, and Americans in the lower class have to deal with the constant reminder that they will have less money to save, and thus more financial stress to come.  Years ago, the common core program was introduced into the education system, and while it had its benefits, children were hit head on so suddenly with a system so much more rigorous than its predecessor – another stressor for those struggling in school and for their parents who have to aid them.  By the time a student becomes involved in graduate studies, the level of education-related stress is through the roof, and oftentimes this is ignored.  The research paper Mental Health and Suicidal Behavior Among Graduate Students discusses exactly how education-based stress impacts students in a graduate program at Emory University in Atlanta.  It was written by Amanda G. Garcia-Williams, Lauren Moffitt and Nadine J. Kaslow.  Amanda G. Garcia-Williams is a behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention near Emory University, while Lauren Moffitt and Nadine J. Kaslow are both researchers on campus.  Their empirical report was published online on April 8th, 2014 in the Academic Psychiatry journal by Springer, the “…leading global scientific, technical and medical portfolio, providing researchers in academia, scientific institutions and corporate R&D departments with quality content through innovative information, products and services” (Springer, 2020).  The aim of the following rhetorical analysis of the report is to observe how a successful peer-reviewed article is presented and to examine how three behavioral researchers describe the impact of stress on graduate students.     

The goal of the three researchers in writing this article was to describe to their audience the mental health of graduate students at Emory University and the services they are privy to.    An additional objective was to determine the psychological factors driving student suicidal behavior.  Ultimately, the study would determine connections between suicidal behavior and/or thoughts and the actions students would take to improve their instability.  In other words, the question at hand was whether or not students suffering from these negative mentalities were actively seeking the help they needed.  The time period during which this study was conducted was incredibly important, as it was the decade which advocated for mental health awareness on college campuses.  Administered entirely online – the study required students to participate via email by completing the “Interactive Screening Program, an online anonymous mental health questionnaire” (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  The questionnaire consisted of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and additional sections devoted to documenting substance use, negative emotions and anxiety and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. 

The audience that the authors are attempting to reach may actually be quite broad, consisting of other psychological researchers, professors in graduate programs, the students in graduate programs themselves, guidance counselors, school administration, and so on.  The goal of mental health in the modern world after all is to bring as much awareness to the issue as possible.  Thus, such a study should reach all departments in the school being analyzed.  Guidance counselors and/or therapists can aid students suffering from the multiple stresses of school, and the administrative board can find the very programs and/or individual specialists who provide this guidance.  Professors who are aware of such a study can respond to their students accordingly, being more lenient with grading or offering extra study sessions.  

As the study suggests, “One of the most concerning mental health problems exhibited by graduate students is suicidal behavior. Compared to undergraduates, graduate students may be at elevated risk for suicide [4]. In a 10-year longitudinal study of suicides across 12 colleges, students over the age of 25 were at elevated risk for suicide than younger students” (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).   The quote indicates that a very specific group of people is of particular focus in this study, as they are the ones most affected by education-related stress and suicidal behaviors.  This can include medical students but also encompasses students in all graduate and professional programs.  By making this information public, more can be done to aid this specific group of students.  Thus, it is quite evident how vital such a study can actually be.

This empirical report is structured according to the conventional IMRAD format, beginning with an abstract which describes every component of the article that is to follow in minimal detail.  In the first move, the researchers emphasize the necessity of awareness of mental health in Emory University by blatantly stating how concerning it is that students in graduate programs have a tendency to gravitate towards suicidal thoughts (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  The authors establish ethos by incorporating previous studies into their own and showing how that data corresponds exactly to the data gathered in the duration of the study.      

In the second move, the researchers further establish ethos and therefore their credibility by stating the vast array of factors that can contribute to stress and ultimately suicidal behavior.  The report states, “Depression, anxiety, substance use, eating issues, and service utilization are important variables to consider” (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  Some of these factors may not be ones that the typical person would think correspond to suicidal behavior.  Thus, the researchers conducting the study effectively demonstrate their knowledge on the subject at hand and establish their collected data as accurate.  

In the third and final move, the authors state the results of the study and explain connections between studied variables.  The conclusion of the study reveals how much each of the aforementioned variables actually impact the mindset of graduate students.  Statistics revolving depression, anxiety, substance use, etc, reveal what types of students are most likely to seek help.  One conclusion that was reached that was of particular interest, was that female students were more likely to seek help than their male counterparts.  It was also found that students with the most severe cases of depression were more likely to utilize the services that were offered to them (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  Combining those results, it appeared as though female students reported higher levels of depression and therefore suicidal thoughts.  Having previously established ethos, the authors present these findings as extremely credible and accurate. 

Amanda G. Garcia-Williams, Lauren Moffitt and Nadine J. Kaslow have automatic ethos when discussing this sort of study because they are all behavioral scientists and are a part of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University.  However, the authors also establish ethos by including documents such as the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) into their study.  This document “…is a nine-item self-report scale of depressive symptoms in the past 2 weeks based on the PRIME-MD diagnostic tool for psychiatric disorders” (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  Professionalism is established upon mention of the PRIME-MD diagnostic tool for psychiatric disorders because it is the same tool utilized by professionals worldwide.  The patient health questionnaire is therefore established as credible, as are the three scientists carrying out the study.  Logos is established throughout the report with the many statistics and variables of study discussed.  Including prior studies was also a form of logos because these studies consisted of important data and conclusions of their own – many of which were used to conduct this very study.  

In the results section of the report, a singular large chart is incorporated and used to organize all of the data collected.  The chart includes certain aspects of the survey questions that students were asked to answer, such as identifying the types of negative emotions students faced or explaining how relationships may have been affected as a result of such emotions.  (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  Also included in the chart were statistics relating to the key variables discussed earlier: depression, anxiety, substance use, eating issues, and service utilization.  PHQ-9 scores were also included, which presented the percentage of students who deal with varying levels of depression (from mild to severe) (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  Every single component of this chart established logos, as the data clearly stated the results of the study.  The numbers ultimately supported the claims that the authors of this report were initially making.

In the discussion section the authors emphasize that the results of their study are quite coherent with those of other studies.  The report states that the “Study results are consistent with other literature that presents graduate students as a population that experiences high levels of depression, anxiety, and distress (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  In other words, the idea that students specifically in graduate programs face the highest levels of negative emotions is supported by a wide range of experimentation.  The discussion section also discusses how certain variables were not as impactful as others in terms of worsening negative emotions.  Substance abuse, for example, did not seem to be a problem for most of the graduate students at Emory University (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  The authors then go on to discuss how the issue at hand could be combated.  Possible solutions include discussing “common emotional and behavioral reactions that occur in graduate school and places on and off campus to receive appropriate assessments and treatment” (Garcia-Williams et al. 2014).  In other words, there is a huge emphasis on greater intervention and quick action.  The more involved professionals are, and the quicker they become involved, the more effective efforts will be to combat educational stressors and suicidal behavior among graduate students.

I truly enjoyed analyzing this study as I am currently a part of a rigorous medical program that will most certainly bring me large amounts of stress.  In my program specifically, I feel there are several resources that students are privy to which can help counter negative emotions related to stress.  There are numerous counselors and faculty members who are willing to talk to students simply to get their minds off of exams and grades.  The fact that we can access such resources could very well be the result of studies/experiments such as the one I explored in this paper.  I was proud of my ability to identify logos and ethos throughout the report; however, I had difficulty finding appeals to emotion (pathos).  I know that statistical reports such as this one rarely have any sort of appeal to emotion; however, and thus I did not stress too much on finding exactly where such appeals could have occurred.  Ultimately, I feel as though I learned a great deal from this experience, and I truly feel as though having this knowledge will help me as I dive into my own graduate studies in the future.  



About Springer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer   


Garcia-Williams AG, Moffitt L, Kaslow NJ. Mental health and suicidal behavior 

among graduate students. Acad Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;38(5):554-60. Doi:

10.1007/s40596-014-0041-y. Epub 2014 Apr 8. PubMed PMID: 24711096.


Jackie. (2019, September 20). The Rise of Mental Health on College Campuses: Protecting the 

Emotional Health of Our Nation’s College Students. Retrieved from https://www.higheredtoday.org/2018/12/17/rise-mental-health-college-campuses-protecting-emotional-health-nations-college-students/