Hear them speak: Researchers struggling with mental health


Working in research is often a demanding and tedious process that takes a lot of time and requires uncompromising dedication. This has led to many people working in this field getting sucked into the pressure of having to produce results at a demanding pace. “Over 40% of people in the academic environment experience mental health issues,” said Dani Beck, neuroscientist and PhD candidate. Despite the stress and burnout that comes with this pressure, a lot of researchers do not take action because of the stigma that comes attached to speaking out and more so because mental health problems are seen as a norm and a sign of weakness, according to Systematic reviews.

With academia being an A-B field, it has experienced slow developments in terms of having open conversations about mental health and creating structures that are favorable for the mental health of researchers. Fay Lin, a phd candidate at UCLAQCBio notes that the systemic ways of Academia do not foster mental health such as lack of mentorship training for advisors, power dynamics between mentors and mentees, a culture that condemns self-care and existing stigma that prevents open dialogue about the issues that researchers are facing. 


On talking about the effect of the covid 19 lockdown on mental health of researchers, Nathasia Mudiwa, Co-Founder VISTEM Africa says “I was so consumed in doing so much stuff that I never took time to check in with myself. During a PhD, there’s always something to do, some data to analyze, papers to read, etc we often don’t have the time to self reflect and notice when we aren’t in the best state. When I finally sat down with my thoughts, I found myself unbelievably burnt out and overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated and in panic mode. My takeaway from being in lockdown is it is important to constantly check in with oneself.” 


Research shows that having supportive management, job autonomy, participation in decision making processes and opportunities for professional career development boost mental health amongst researchers. In its research on mental health of doctoral researchers, Systematic reviews found that, “self-care affords Doctoral researchers the opportunity to take time away from their studies and nurture their non-PhD identities” and this was associated with reduced mental health problems as it allowed these researchers to develop themselves.