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A few weeks ago, as I met with academics whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, I observed how when I would just say “on my blog I talk about mental health in academia” some people obviously close down and even look away. The taboo around this subject is so strong!

Don’t get me wrong, actually even after blogging and reading scientific papers on this subject, I am still not feeling 100% confident when talking about it and I do understand the way these people react. I would have reacted the same way a few years back, and I am noticing how I am still full of cultural bias myself. However, I am convinced about one thing: it is only by forcing ourselves to talk about this mental health crisis in academia that we will start finding solutions.

Not only am I convinced that it is important to open this dialog, this is for me the only way which I have today, at my own scale, to try to help my PhD students friends who ended up in unacceptable situations within their labs and/or within their departments. I’ve witnessed this PhD students struggle with mental health and some even falling deep into depression. This is unacceptable. This is not the image I had of academic research before starting my PhD.

Therefore, a few weeks ago I made a thread on Twitter starting with the question: What is the mental health crisis everyone talks about in academia? I think that behind this scary expression there are many other words, better socially accepted words, which we can use to help opening the dialog and breaking the taboo.

Below is the full thread 👇, but one more (positive) thing.

Two weeks ago, I also had the chance to give a talk at the PhD students retreat from my former department of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. It was so refreshing to meet these many first- and second-year students as well as those closer to graduation! With this event and to my surprise, I observed how this dialog around the question of mental health in academia seemed much more advanced for them than it was for me just two years ago, and how they did seem open and keen to discuss it further!

I am taking this as a very encouraging sign that the communication and initiatives around this subject are already having a positive impact, including in Switzerland 🇨🇭 👍 :)

 

 

Like many PhD students, during my PhD I went up and down the spectrum of anxiety and depression a few times. Just like Sverdlik et al. 2018 wrote, this can be described as “elevation/depression cycles [were] observed, with numerous students reporting significant fluctuations in self-worth throughout their studies (e.g., at times feeling competent and powerful, at other times feeling frustrated and helpless)”. Thankfully, I’ve always managed to get better and keep some self-confidence. How did I do that? Two things:

  1. By taking care of myself and my work/life balance.
  2. By taking care of my professional development by developing my soft skills thanks to an amazing doctoral program.

Thanks for reading this today and I hope it can help you in your academic life as well :)

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