This article was also published by Jennifer Polk in the From PhD to Life Facebook page.
Getting through PhD life is an amazing experience: PhD students live in this kind of limbo in between being still a student and preparing themselves for the real working life. They are usually independent, they manage their own work, and they are constantly exposed to a young, dynamic, and developing environment. If people look at this world from the outside, they might think of it as a paradise. Unfortunately, the struggle to produce innovation and progress comes with a price. A recent paper on the journal Research Policy showed how the risk of suffering from mental health issues is higher for doctors than the rest of the population.
The highlights of the paper were:
1. One in two PhD students experiences psychological distress; one in three is at risk of a common psychiatric disorder.
2. The prevalence of mental health problems is higher in PhD students than in the highly educated general population, highly educated employees, and higher education students.
3. Work and organizational context are significant predictors of PhD students’ mental health.
This study was part of an official research project, but if one googles “anxiety during PhD”, one finds hundreds of stories written by PhD students who have been through depression.
I have experienced anxiety and depression in the past two years too because of my poor choice of mentors. Other students end up feeling down because of a nasty work environment, lack of positive results, home sickness, or lack of social life. To overcome this problem, I tried to keep myself busy with sport, hobbies, volunteering and so on. It didn’t work.
The situation changed when I decided to look for professional advice from a counsellor. I understand many people might find this a strange solution. In some countries, as in Italy (where I am from), people associated the idea of counselling to madness and psychosis. So, they refuse the idea of counselling in the first place as they don’t want to be labelled as mentally ill.
Delete this idea from your mind – counsellors are here to help and give tips about overcoming unhelpful thinking such as anxiety, depression. If your friends don’t understand your decision or start making fun of it, pay no attention to them as they are 1) immature, 2) unnecessary people.
If you are an international student, as I am in England, and are not confident to express your feelings or afraid that you might not get the message across, do your own research on the internet. I was advised to google “Shy No Longer” to see what was causing my unhelpful thinking. Specifically, take a look at the section “Unhelpful Thinking style”, , and see the unhelpful self-statements and thoughts that drive your depression/anxiety. Also, it would be useful to read about the feeling-thinking connection and learn how to distinguish feelings from thoughts Most of the time, what you think isn’t real is your own world in your mind.
To finish off, any time you are affected by depressing feelings, just think that 1) only 3% of the UK population are members of a PhD programme (in science), 2) different from the rest of the population, you are able to design experiments, produce new research, manage data, and engage with awesome and brilliant conversations. Finally, enjoy the PhD experience, as this the best moment of your life and it won’t come back again.
#phd #phlife #phdstudent #mentalhealth