Mental health is a public health concern globally. Despite this, within the research community, there is fierce competition, unfortunately creating a toxic environment for many. In recent years, however, mental health has been at the forefront of conversations in scientific journals and media, no longer remaining a taboo subject.
This article focuses on the challenges researchers and people in the scientific and academic community face concerning mental health, what solutions exist, and how Orvium helps take some of the stress away.
What Mental Health Challenges Exist in the Scientific and Academic Community?
In 2018, Nature surveyed over 2,000 doctoral students in 26 countries and found that 40% of them had moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression. That’s six times more than the general population. Women, transgender, or gender non-conforming people in research face an even bigger risk. This still applies today, as the pandemic causes burnout and anxiety in academia, impacting the ability to teach, produce research, or mentor the next generation.
Multiple factors can affect this, but it’s important to point out that mental health disorders are complex and continue to remain somewhat unknown to different professionals. Research depicts both environmental and genetic contributions can influence mental health. While studying and contributing to research might not directly inflict a mental health disorder in an individual, places where there are gaps in the community or they fall short can be hard on an individual’s mental health.
What Are the Contributing Factors to Poor Mental Health?
Sometimes, researchers fear that their credibility as scientists goes down if others know they may be struggling or unwell. This not only creates a stigma around mental health but also brings to light some harsh realities. First off, graduate school is a challenging environment, with many long and thankless nights. A vast majority of today’s scientific work comes from junior researchers who struggle to make a name for themselves by publishing in “prestigious” journals. Job positions are short and can be far away from loved ones, creating a sense of loneliness and helplessness. There is also immense pressure to collectively publish millions of papers annually, forcing researchers to publish quantity over quality. There’s also the added pressure of a researcher’s academic paper getting rejected, and too many rejections can make researchers feel worthless and lost.
There are many more contributing factors to mental health issues in research and academia. Still, this space must encourage, protect, and inspire individuals who want to pursue a career in these fields instead of stigmatizing something very serious. Regardless of your age or tenure status, the absence of a supportive culture can have detrimental effects on your mental health.
One particular case that sparked a more significant conversation into mental health is the case of Francis Dolan, who took his own life at the age of 34 and had authored 13 scientific papers in prestigious journals. His friend, Dr. Oliver Rosten, called attention to the way career pressures can harm the health of postdoctoral researchers, having been firmly convinced that’s what led to Francis Dolan’s tragic death.
The Elephant in the Room - Hypercompetitiveness
The academic and scientific culture is often a hypercompetitive one. As young scientists transition into a faculty role, they quickly go from team members to leaders, from managing a single project to guiding several students’ and postdocs’ work and careers, and from never worrying about funding to feeling overwhelmed by grant proposals and deadlines. And from our How to Get Funding for Research article, you know how difficult it may be to apply for a grant and get funding for your research.
The academic system assumes, erroneously, that every person is strong, experienced, or mature enough to handle the pressures associated with the job at hand. All of this considering that most young scientists have never taught classes on their own or developed a course. While some universities offer good teaching support, very few provide training in leadership, conflict resolution, and mentoring. There’s even less support for mental health awareness and intervention.
What Can be Done?
Unfortunately, faculty sometimes realize too late that stress, anxiety, and pressures translate into sleep deprivation, fatigue, irritability, and isolation. These all negatively contribute to our quality of life and interactions with colleagues and those around us. It’s time for academic institutions to step up and do something about it. New faculty and postdocs should receive the proper training and resources to be able to navigate their new responsibilities and handle mental health challenges.
Some countries are already taking the first steps towards seeking the correct intervention strategies to relieve some of the mental health issues pre and postdoctoral populations experience. This is happening in the form of webinar series or international conferences. Still, institutions are far from adequately intervening when these issues occur. The duty falls on each of us to take care of ourselves, report any situations, and address issues openly and courageously.
This also means that, as a community, we must come together and normalize the conversation around mental health to get rid of the elephant in the room. It’s also crucial to remember that we’re not just our jobs or our research and that our health, mental sanity, and things and people that matter to us should always be a priority. Remember, there are ways to improve our health in different areas of our lives.
If you are currently experiencing mental health issues, you may visit the following links:
- Time to Change for the UK.
- United for Global Mental Health for national initiatives.
- Mental Health America for US resources.
Be More Mentally Health Conscious with Orvium
Self-care is of the utmost importance, but no one should have to suffer alone. We at Orvium recognize the difficulties in the scientific and academic communities and offer solutions. Being an open repository, we encourage researchers, publishers, and reviewers to form a community and publish your work and research in a safe space.
You’ll no longer feel frustrated with your journal solution, face high journal publishing fees, or struggle to find peer-reviewers. With our intuitive interface, we take the added stress of publishing research off of your shoulders so you can share your work with academic and scientific peers faster and easier. Take a look at our platform to discover what matters to you, or find your community on our website.