Athena Swan

Athena Swan promotes and supports the careers of women in Science, Engineering and Technology (STEM), and aims to address gender inequalities and imbalance in these disciplines and, in particular, the under-representation of women in senior roles.

Friday, 5 December 2014

In the news - There is a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia

As the university considers staff attitudes to mental health issues in conjunction with Time to Change, it is worth considering that many of these problems stretch back to experiences or attitudes encountered while a student - particularly those at higher levels. This article from the Guardian Higher Education Network debates some of the issues from someone who completed a PhD and now works to support those going through the process.

Among the people I do know who have done PhDs, I have seen depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, alcoholism, self-harming, and suicide attempts. I have seen how issues with mental health can go on to affect physical health. During my PhD I noticed changes to my skin, and changes in my menstrual cycle which persist to this day.
Who else is supposed to help you? Your supervisor? "A blemish on my career," is how one academic referred to their experience of supervising a student who developed mental health difficulties during their studies.
Mental health problems are often not perceived to be anything to do with supervisory inadequacies. It is important to remember that academics who are PhD supervisors did not make it to their current rank because of their exceptional supervising skill. They got to that position by being an excellent researcher, and winning some cash.
Clearly, you can't budget for empathy. Today, I say that we should not accept this.
It is not OK for PhD students to become so affected by their studies that they kill themselves.
It is not OK for PhD students to maintain the culture of working yourself to the point of illness.
It is not OK for academics to wash their hands of the situation.

Read more here.

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