I opened my email this morning to see a message from my department with the subject line “mental health series”. The email addressed that the month of May is mental health awareness month and the department was organizing a “mental health break in the form of a Popsicle social” to kick start the mental health awareness series. Reading this email made me think about the important roles that universities and graduate programs play in spreading awareness about mental health issues in academia and in weeding out the stigma surrounding this issue in a professional setting.
Mental health in academia is no joke. MANY studies have highlighted the stress and depression experienced by graduate students and researchers in academia. How big of a problem is this, you ask? From a Nature study of 2,279 students from 26 countries and 200+ institutions:
A 30 min ice-cream social to highlight mental awareness is not going to help solve the issue. It may initiate some conversations amongst the students but let’s be honest — how many people attend a Popsicle social to talk about their depression at 3:00 pm on a Thursday afternoon? During the first week of graduate school, we are made to attend a series of safety, teaching, research, etc information sessions. Nothing is said about tackling mental health or dealing with depression during these orientation sessions. What are the resources available on campus (if there are any in the first place)? How does one deal with constant failure and disappointment in grad school? How does one deal with isolation and loneliness during one too many 16-hour days? How does one deal with work-life balance or should that be thrown out of the window? What are the realities of academia that are not openly talked about in the fancy brochures and newsletters? Perhaps the incoming first year students are too naive to realize what lies ahead of their graduate school careers. But what about the senior students? What is being done to address this issue amongst the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and the 5th year grad students?
Graduate students should not be ignored and definitely deserve some sort of a counseling or orientation on tackling mental health issues during our time here. We need appropriate resources to be able to reach out in time of need. This is an ongoing conversation and should not be limited to one day or even one month. We need senior students as well as professors who are compassionate mentors, we need counseling resources specifically targeted towards academia, we need to educate our community about the stigma around depression, anxiety, etc along with the realities of mental health, and so much more.
More on the mental health crisis in academia –
- More academics and students have mental health problems than ever before
- Academics ‘face higher mental health risk’ than other professions
- I wish we could talk more openly about mental health in academia