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 of 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 »
In the run up to my postdoc, I was aware that studies into PhD students’ mental health were appearing frequently, but I felt that not enough was being done to promote the discussion in academia. This pushed me to start researching the topic myself, collecting different information, and led me to present on “The PhD students’ mental health crisis” to my institute. It was the reception to this talk that made me realise how much researchers seek a place where they can share and discuss daily common issues they are facing in academia – my journey as a mental health advocate had begun.Read More »
‘You did really good on that test, didn’t you?’. A voice of surprise, shock, perhaps even disbelief coming from a university lecturer who is aware that I have a learning disability. I’d like to say that it was an isolated incident in my life, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to, especially since I was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and autistic-like traits in my late teenage years, the latter of which has currently come under review once again by my mental health team. I’ve been told by many people that I should be grateful that I was never ‘officially’ diagnosed with autism – an ableist point of view I wish people would retire.Read More »
We’ve created a culture of overwork in academia.
It’s expected that techs, professors and graduate students eat, sleep and breathe their work. Slept more than four hours last night? You could have been replying to emails. Took an hour lunch break? Chug down an energy drink while you analyze data and eat a bag of chips on the way to class instead. Only worked 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. today? Don’t expect to get tenure any time soon. This dangerous and pervasive narrative, fuelled by a combination of impostor syndrome and the “publish or perish” mentality, causes many academics to feel compelled to spend every waking hour reading the literature, refining lectures and perfecting their ideas so that they can keep their careers afloat.Read More »
On 16 December 2019, I defended my PhD thesis in a public examination at the University of Helsinki. At that point I had been studying for my PhD for ten long, torturous years. After successfully defending my doctoral thesis, I felt nothing. I was totally numb. The year leading to my defense was the hardest I had ever been through in my whole PhD. Due to the long journey and additional challenges, including harassment that I faced on campus that same year (which I will not go into detail on here), I was struggling with anxiety, PTSD and a depressive episode. I was taking medication while also dealing with poor physical health and insomnia. Just a few months before my defense, I was feeling so bad that I wanted to quit everything. Everything was indifferent and insignificant for me; this big accomplishment, being the first PhD holder in our family, meant absolutely nothing. I just wanted to leave that ugly place and the toxic people I had been surrounded by for so long.Read More »
“You should leave Germany as soon as possible” – words I never imagined I’d hear in the final few weeks of my PhD. Yet, I soon found myself packing my life into boxes and boarding a flight to the UK.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused mass disruption. For me, it brought my PhD journey in Germany to an abrupt end – there was no obligatory thesis “hand-in photo” or celebratory drinks with my colleagues and friends. But while the coronavirus has introduced a high degree of uncertainty into all of our lives, for many academics uncertainty is the norm.
But what is behind this uncertainty?Read More »
Ostensibly it would not seem to be so: the sun is shining, I have a safe and lovely home, a supportive partner, and I love my work. Everything is fine—but I am not.
I am sitting in the garden, trying to compress the rising panic, breathing slow and deep to ebb away the tears building behind my eyes, and the tightening of my throat. Earlier today I got up, did my yoga, had a healthy breakfast, chatted to my partner, then got a tea and sat down to work. But as I scrolled through my emails, for no apparent reason my anxiety kicked in. Every small request or notification was somehow more pressure than I could bear.
So, I stopped. I shut down my laptop and walked away. I told my partner how I felt and came outside. And then I sat here in the garden thinking, I had to communicate this to you all: it’s okay to stop, it’s okay to put yourself first.Read More »
Last year, I experienced mental illness for the first time due to a series of life events. At first, I didn’t know what was going on or how to label it. Individual psychotherapy helped me identify that I was likely experiencing depression and anxiety. I spoke with a psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis and obtained the right medication. The diagnosis itself was at first terrifying to hear. But after living with untreated mental illness for several months, I was comforted by finally knowing what was wrong, because I could now properly address it. My subsequent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions focused specifically on tackling depression and anxiety, which have been extraordinarily helpful. In my case, identifying the problem at hand, followed by undergoing targeted therapy and taking medication to address it, has proven to be a successful overall approach to tackling it.Read More »
Recently, a group of academics from around the world, none of whom I had ever met in person, sang happy birthday to me by video chat. The rendition was terrible. Video lag meant that they were out of time with each other and, as is the way with these things, more than one person was out of tune. But you know what? It absolutely made my day!Read More »
In graduate school, I honestly always thought that once I defended my thesis and was awarded my PhD, that some light bulb of knowledge would switch on in my brain and I would feel as smart as everyone else around me. In hindsight, I suspect I was able to use that justification as a means to shield myself from facing the fact that I ultimately lacked confidence in myself. As a result of this lack of self-confidence I also lacked assertiveness personally and professionally. A lack of assertiveness is not often associated with men, but we do experience it. I still struggle with a lack of self-confidence but having finally acknowledged it I am now actively working to fix it.Read More »
Please be aware that this blog mentions suicide ideation.
I am writing this blog to highlight my Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) journey – how I discovered it and got help, as it takes up a lot of my life, and it has certainly affected my employment and PhD.
The build-up to a diagnosis
I don’t know when it all started exactly, but I realised it when I was 26, living alone, working full-time in industry. Taking the leap to speak to my boyfriend at the time about how I was feeling is the reason I am writing this from a happy place. What sticks with me the most are the words he said to me: “It’s kinda monthly.“Read More »