This month our DiversityJC discussed an important topic: what we can do to improve mental health in academia. We are going to share the main insights here, but you can read the full discussion on our storify. We had special (and courageous) guests that recently shared their own personal experiences:
- @abigailleigh‘s with “I’m Not Sure Why I’m Here: A Panicked Story, Part 1“,
- @l_matthias with “When your ‘dark passenger’ travels along“, and
- @duffy_ma with “Life as an anxious scientist“ and follow-up post: “Reflections on the one-year anniversary of my anxiety post, including thoughts on how to support students with anxiety“
Although there seem to be a bit more dialogue about #mentalhealth in academia, this is still a difficult topic to discuss, and we still rarely engage it fully. For our August discussion, we first asked our guests what prompted them to share their experiences in their blogs:
Some academics may be inclined to share our experiences, but don’t do it for fear of retaliation. Or as @abigailleigh put it “I worried that my colleagues will look at me strangely, assuming I couldn’t do my research b/c of my mental illness.” But our guests also had positive responses:
Indeed. While positive our guests had support, it is not always the case – we do need to feel safe discussing those issues openly, with supervisors and colleagues!
Accepting and understanding mental health is a crucial part of the process. For that to happen, it is important we talk openly about mental health to alleviate its toll, making it more manageable. Speaking about mental health also lets other academics know they can talk about health issues. Academia applies constant pressure, which likely plays a role in the prevalence of anxiety and depression (e.g. in grad students), so it’s also likely many of us are hiding related struggles. Further support can come from our institutions, which need to actively promote mental health by developing and making resources available, accessible, and visible.
Many successful academics and other professionals deal with mental illnesses. They are effective despite it. Being able to put down the weight of depression or cut away the thicket of anxiety would make them even better scientists. Living with mental illness takes strength and treating them means making people more themselves.
Thanks to all that joined/listened to our #DiversityJC. We hope that this discussion encourage others to share their experiences and talk about their mental health issues. We are a community, and we must stand for each other!
Mental Health resources: