Attention for mental health in academia

Last modified: June 12, 2018

Nature has recently posted several articles on the mental health crisis in graduate students and PhD candidates. The campaign serves as a call to action for improving mental health in researchers. These articles are interesting for PhDs and their direct supervisors as well as other parties involved who can help improving the current situation.

Graduate students more likely to experience stress

A large survey across different countries and institutions showed that graduate students are more than six times more likely to experience stress and symptoms of depression compared with to the average population. In an attempt to find the origin of this problem, respondents were asked about their perceived work–life balance and mentorship quality.

Responses and solutions from concerned researchers

Nature summarized the results of the survey and received numerous replies from readers sharing their issues with mental health. Even though most replies were from postgraduate students and postdocs, several established scientists also replied that mental health problems are not confined to researchers early in their career. Stories by five respondents are published, where they share their challenges and give advice on maintaining good mental health in the hyper-competitive environment of science. Based on the results of the survey, Nature asked researchers for solutions and were impressed by the turnout: 1.200 retweets and 170 replies. It showed that many early researchers experience mental health problems. The full thread can be found here.

Current mental health support for researchers

On the occasion of the mental health awareness month May in the US, Nature wrote another article where they insist that simply raising awareness is not sufficient for solving the mental health issues. For instance, it is not known whether the interventions to support the mental health for researchers are actually effective, following from a report by RAND Europe.

Improving mental health initiatives

There are, however, also some examples of effective initiatives that support raising mental health in researchers. For instance, funds are available for training PhD supervisors to mentor their PhD candidates. Additionally, a support center has been established in India and lastly a British institute employed a group registered mental-health first aiders, who are trained to recognize mental-health issues, provide initial help and guide people towards professional services where appropriate.

Commentary on the survey results

Dr Mattias Björnmalm from project qBionano wrote a commentary on Nature’s articles in his blog by giving plenty solutions on how we can start to solve the issues. He included a list of groups working with researchers on the issue of mental health and gives advice on the best way to get involved.

Council for mental health for early researchers

If you are a PhD candidate and you want to be updated on challenges and solutions of early researchers, such as mental health problems, you can have a look at this pamphlet by Eurodoc (an international federation composed of young researchers from 32 countries in the European Union). Eurodoc respresents PhD candidates in their education, research, and professional development; advance the quality of doctoral programmes and the standards of research activity in Europe; promote the circulation of information on issues regarding young researchers and organize events.

Call to action

The numerous responses on the articles by Nature shows that mental Health is a real problem. A problem we need to fix. The earlier mentioned survey results support a call to action to establish mental health and career development resources for graduate students. This can be achieved by offering better resources within career development offices, faculty training and bringing about an academic culture shift.

If you want to share your story about mental health issues and/or offer a solution to these problems, you can do that using this form by Nature.

By Sanne Joon

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