The research system in place is like a monster which chews a young mind and then spits it out
Going into the field of academia, one should take good care of him/her and make sure to find support among the family members, peers and fellow researchers. It is extremely tough out there if you’re emotionally unstable or vulnerable; it’s not a good idea. It’s quite a startling phenomenon for a person with low patience levels. The research system in place is like a monster which chews a young mind and then spits it out. So there is no surprise that throughout the whole world it is common to see PhD students work themselves to the extent which brings them to the brink of physical and mental illness in order to complete their research programmes.
The most unfortunate part of the academia is that there is a culture of acceptance growing in universities and research labs around the psychiatric health issues, which immediately needs to be challenged. A study carried out in Flanders, Belgium, found that Research scholars were more than twice as likely to suffer from mental-health difficulties than the highly educated population in general, and that one-third of the scholars either had, or were at risk of developing, a psychiatric disorder.
A report published in Nature mentions about the survey carried out on PhD students at the University of Arizona in Tucson, found that around three-quarters were under ‘more than average’ stress. Authors Katia Levecque and FrederikAnseel of Ghent University while commenting on the mental health status of the PhD students warn that the “Mental health problems can develop into serious threats to one’s wellbeing and career, and can have detrimental consequences in the long-term,”. Some of the most frequently reported indications of the degrading mental health status include feeling under constant strain, depressed and feeling nothingness, losing sleep, and failing to overcome difficulties or enjoy day-to-day activities.
The experiencing of mental health challenges among research scholars is impeding them in taking care of family needs due to conflicting work commitments and financial constraints as described by the scholar Elisabeth Pain. In case a student has accepted the challenge of doing PhD, it is important to learn appropriate ways to overcome the obstacles rather than quitting it. Simultaneously the PhD students must not allow themselves to become so affected by the research that they will end up killing themselves.
It is important to maintain the balance of social and academic life and there is no point in getting involved so much that you will reach to the point of no return. It is better to pause, refresh and restart rather than harming yourself. Sometimes you won’t be able to cope up with the demands and pressures involved in the programme, you will feel powerless in such situation. Dark thoughts will start creeping up in your mind and suddenly self harming will seem as an option. Amidst this mental and emotional state, don’t allow such dark thoughts to ignite the action in you. Don’t feel shy in taking help. World is full of good people. Talk to your fellows, supervisor or counsellors. Talking about the mental health is no means an "admission of defeat" but in fact it is a wise step for your progress and well-being.
The attachment of the stigma and retaliation inhibit research scholars suffering from mental health issues to make it public. Lack of visibility of such cases will further deteriorate the situation and will reduce the accountability of the institutions and the people in power. It is important to challenge the narrative fed to the scholars that, “if you aren’t suffering then you aren’t doing it right”. This can’t be the norm nor should this be allowed in the academia?
It is important that changes be made or forced to make at universities to deal with this concern so that the highs and lows can be appropriately dealt with both at administrative as well as at academic level. Is there anyone who would ask a PhD student about their mental health with same enthusiasm as you ask them about the state of their research and research papers?
(Author is a Research Scholar at University of Kashmir)