In the last several years, issues relating to mental health and well-being in academia have attracted increasing attention from researchers and in the popular press. Although scholars have long recognised that academia can be a stressful and demanding profession, it has been argued that the current situation is so serious that it should be described as a “crisis”. Both university staff and students are reporting high levels of stress and burnout, both of which can have serious consequences for mental health and well-being. In a recent review of the scholarly literature, work by Guthrie et al. (2017) found that “proportions of both university staff and postgraduate students with a risk of having or developing a mental health problem, based on self-reported evidence, were generally higher than for other working populations.”Read More »
I write this at the dimming of a heatwave day. In the mornings I feel utterly discombobulated, a bit sick and a bit dizzy. A mix of medications and general gloom. The sunshine and excessive heat are of course hugely problematic in terms of current concerns about climate change. And the light is better for my morale than the inevitable long months of a grey, Welsh winter. Even at this time of day, my thinking is not very efficient. Reviewer 2 would definitely say that this piece lacks structure and clarity. It’s true. But here is what I have to say anyway.Read More »
Just another typical PhD day for me. Highlighting another research paper, trying desperately to retain the salient bits. Mixing it up with different coloured highlighters. Grabbing a cup of coffee, hoping that the information might go in if I let the caffeine sink in. And yet it never quite does. I beat myself up, telling myself I am too stupid to do a PhD. Walking away from a meeting, I feel ashamed, as I know I read the paper that was being discussed, I just can’t quite recall the details. Rinse and repeat. This, combined with many other small things, which in isolation were hardly something to fret about, left my mental health in tatters.
It’s not just a bad day, or a bad week. It’s all the time. I am struggling to engage in reading papers. As soon as I pick them up, I glaze over or I get distracted. My reading list grows forever longer – the weight of it playing on the back of my mind. My inner voice constantly telling me I am not doing enough to succeed.Read More »
Nothing in the world can prepare a person to lose a loved one. Sure, mental health professionals can explain the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance)1, but the path and duration of the journey is entirely individual – in my experience it’s like wading through a heavy substance. On good days you can move forwards slowly, one step at a time. Other days, it’s easier to stand still, or move backwards into the path you’ve already created. This can make it difficult to see a future, and it can feel like everything becomes more challenging. You can see then how this type of scenario could impact a person in their early academic career, which is already widely regarded as an extremely challenging time.
I sadly lost both my parents in my late teens which had a huge impact on my wellbeing and an even bigger impact on my career decisions. Now, it may have taken me a very long time to be in a place where I feel comfortable enough to talk about those experiences, but I now feel that it’s important for me to raise awareness in the hopes it may help people understand how to support individuals in similar circumstances.Read More »
Completing the biggest achievement of my life has left me in the most zombie, emotionally depleted state of my life. Immediately after defending my dissertation successfully, thereby securing my Ph.D. in English, I found myself soft crying into a pillow and trying to find enough stability to reply to all the “congratulations!” text messages pinging on my phone. This emotional release marked the start of what I’ll refer to as my post-PhD depression: a state of aimlessness, premature cynicism, and loss sparked by the contradictory realization that it is all over and yet there is so much more to do. It is like finishing a marathon after giving all you got only to realize you’ve agreed to compete in a triathlon every day for the rest of your career.Read More »
Seven years ago, I left my home country. I haven’t lived there since. From the UK I went to Germany for two years, from there to Kazakhstan for five years, and now I am in the USA, for who knows how long. In part, I left by choice: in Berlin, I went to a major research centre in my field. In Kazakhstan, I got to help develop the curriculum and policies of a recently-established university. My new position in the USA affords me new possibilities. Moving internationally gave me opportunities I might not have gotten at home.
You could say I left for these opportunities, but I also left because of the academic job market. Simply put, I had little choice if I wanted to stay in academia. I have been on the job market almost continuously for the past 11 years. In that time I have applied for many, many jobs in the UK. I Interviewed for four jobs and got one. I haven’t gotten as far as the interview stage of any job search in my home country in nine years.
I am having to constantly choose between options: keep my career, or go home. I may never be able to do both. For now, at least, I have chosen my career. But that comes with its own stressors.Read More »
We are thrilled to announce that Voices of Academia is now two years old! We are so thankful for you, our community, and proud that we are now over 15,000 followers strong.
Although Voices of Academia was conceived during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it still feels as relevant as ever. Numerous #AcademicMentalHealth tweets as well as published research reveal that academics continue to struggle with the demands of working in a busy and competitive work environment. Many academics report feeling anxious, burnt out and increasingly despondent about the future. Students experienced considerable distress during the upheaval of COVID-19 and now appear to be more disengaged than ever before. Furthermore, we are sure that many of our readers will have seen the constant discussions about going “alt-ac” and pursuing a career outside of the traditional faculty position. After the last two years, many academics have nothing left to give—and they are looking for an exit strategy.
Given the current situation, the mental health of staff and students should be an urgent priority for universities, but we know that this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, many of our blog authors have shared how the culture of overwork in academia has contributed to their mental ill-health and in some cases hindered their recovery. Others have shared how the stigma of mental illness in the academy has discouraged them from speaking up and seeking help. We agree with Professor June Gruber, who argued last year that higher education needs to do more to address mental health issues:
“Despite growing awareness of a mental health crisis among undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, much of higher education has remained silent or complicit in perpetuating stigma towards mental illness. I’ve seen this first-hand, even in my own field of clinical psychology. A reckoning with how we handle mental health in daily life in higher education is long overdue.”
We hope that initiatives such as Voices of Academia can help to reduce some of the stigma and – along with many other important efforts – contribute to cultural change in universities over time.Read More »
Mental health within academia has recently gained well-deserved attention in the press and the hashtag #AcademicMentalHealth often trends on social media. But most importantly, I’ve noticed it’s been gaining attention within universities themselves with self-care workshops and other initiatives often being promoted. I believe it is important that conversations about “Academic Mental Health” are not restricted only to the experiences of senior academics, but must also involve our students and early career researchers, who face tremendous pressures and need to be well-equipped for their future careers.Read More »
Trigger warnings: Depression, Anxiety, COVID-19, cancer
Doing a PhD was the best thing I’ve done, but also the scariest, most emotional, and most challenging thing I’ve done. I’m going to tell you my story: how my PhD broke me, how the culture of academia means that we often struggle to meet some of our basic human needs, and how training to be a life coach has improved my mental health.
In my second year of my PhD, I found myself on anti-depressants due to a combination of imposter syndrome, inability to grasp concepts, realising I hated reading journal articles, and loneliness. One of the activities that got me through was being part of the PGR student society and being a student rep, working with the student union and the researcher development team to help improve student experiences, run activities and push the university on policy improvements.Read More »
Living with bipolar disorder is not easy. You have to struggle daily to regulate your mood and emotions. It’s a challenge in itself. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is defined as a “mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Your energy, mood, and productivity shift a lot throughout the day. It can range from elated, energetic, self-confident and to feeling hopeless, indifferent, and a lack of interest in activities (even those that bring joy). These episodes or mood shifts are categorised into mania and depression. A person with a bipolar brain often struggles to do daily tasks while experiencing mood shifts. And, lack of support system, therapy or bipolar medication can severely impact their condition, making it worse.
During my masters, my bipolar became worse. Prior to that, I was managing it somehow, but with a change in environment and pressure of academia, it came to breaking point. I would have bouts of crying during classes and developed a fear of writing. I was earlier very hesitant due to misconceptions around taking medication because I was told they are addictive and it’s all about inner strength. Yes, inner strength matters but medication really became my saving grace. My condition improved drastically once I had the right medication and therapy. I was able to go back to my routine and studies.Read More »
CW: mentions suicidal thoughts, self-harm, depression.
If you are a young researcher (maybe a student or a postdoc), struggling with anxiety and depression, maybe you think it will get better once I graduate, or maybe you think it will get better once I get a postdoc with a fancy group, or it will get better once I get a paper in a prestigious journal, or it will get better once I get a tenure track faculty position…
I am here to tell you that those things will not make it better. I have been there, thought those thoughts, and achieved those goals. My depression and anxiety are still here.
Maybe you can yourself recognize that you once thought that it will get better once I get into grad school or once I pass my quals and now that you have achieved those goals you are still struggling.Read More »