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Mentioning Mental Illness in a Statement of Purpose for Grad. School

  1. Dec 5, 2012 #1
    Hi, all.

    I’m applying to master’s programs in a technical discipline. For about three and 1/2 semesters in college I was severely clinically depressed. And, as I got to learn first-hand, being severely depressed is pretty debilitating, so for three semesters I got B+s, Bs and B-s. My question is should I bring up my depression in my statements of purpose to explain my poor performance?

    My concern is that most people regard any kind of mental illness as either an inexcusable personal weakness or, at best, “please-get-away-from-me-now” weird. Naturally, I have a different view and regard it as a normal part of the human condition to which some people are genetically predisposed. But I recognize that I shouldn't at all try to lecture the people who read my statement of purpose…

    I guess my options are
    a) Don’t bring up any illness, look generically incompetent
    b) Bring up depression, risk making admissions committees think I’m a dysfunctional weirdo*
    c) Mention an illness that adversely affected my performance, but don’t name it

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2012 #2
    I hope the three and 1/2 semesters were at the beginning, or at most the middle of your undergraduate career?

    The problem is that no one is terribly interested in excuses, even good ones. "I had a problem, I worked it out, I overcame it" is a good story to tell if you picked up your performance towards the end of your degree. If you slid at the end though, it just looks bad.
  4. Dec 5, 2012 #3
    If you use it as an excuse you will not have good results, however if your illness lead to an uplifting experience then yes mention it. How detailed you want to be is up to you.
  5. Dec 5, 2012 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    I don't know what it is, but lately people seem to really misunderstand the statement of purpose. It's there to explain why you want to go to grad school and what you want to get out of it. It is not supposed to be an essay explaining away weak spots in your application.
  6. Dec 5, 2012 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    No good will come of mentioning mental illness in your statement. It would be a red flag to any reviewer and they might reject your application immediately. It conjures up recent news reports and would make any reviewer apprehensive about accepting you.

    If you did need to explain these grades later on in some interview or something then it would be better to use family issues as a reason. The interviewer shouldn't probe further.

    Here's some more guidelines on writing a statement of purpose:

    http://faculty.unlv.edu/img/img/workshops/Presentation%20on%20Statement%20of%20Purpose%209%20David%20and%20Jenna%20Nov%205.pdf [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Dec 5, 2012 #6
    Some of the schools to which I'm applying specifically request a document that describes
    an applicant's

    - Reasons for applying
    - Previous academic background
    - Research interests
    - Strengths that would not otherwise appear in the application
    - Explanations for any weaknesses in the application

    Maybe this document isn't a statement of purpose; I could be wrong.
  8. Dec 5, 2012 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    If they ask, one should answer, but this should not be the dominant focus of the document.
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