A while ago, I wrote an article about PhD and mental health issues starting the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone. The outcome was impressive. The article went viral and got around 3500 views. I got so many feedback from people grateful that I shared my experience and came up with solutions. Back then, I encouraged students to seek professional advice and talk to a counsellor. Many universities provide this service for free.
A recent study showed that 50% of scholars suffer or have experienced mental health issues due to their academic work. This is an alarming percentage considering that, outside academia, only 27% of the population suffers from anxiety. So, if you go through a PhD, your chance of getting through depression and anxiety double.
Why is this the case? Why do people choose to apply for graduate school and get lost along the way? Why should a PhD be such a tough experience instead of a joyful and happy one?
The first pieces of advice I want to give is:
You are not your PhD, a Phd is what you, not who you are!
Students often answer the question “What you do?” by saying “I am a PhD in science”. Don’t confuse your identity with your work. A PhD is a slice of the pie. You are all the other things you do outside this PhD. People around you would love you even without a PhD. Have you ever thought of this?
Publications made a big impact on students’ mood. Months and months of unsuccessful experiments eventually lead to low mood and negative thinking. I often hear the word failure.
If experiments go wrong, it does not mean that you failed. They just went wrong.
Universities feel under pressure because they get funding according to the number of publications. This is not of your concern. You doing a PhD for learning and acquiring skills. PhD is a training not a factory of publications.
Finally, but not less important, don’t allow the environment around you to let you down. Many students complain about a poor supportive environment or are frustrated because labmates don’t follow protocols. I have been through this too. My old supervisor even told me that probably a PhD wasn’t the way forward for me. None of my old coworkers spoke to me in the lab. I understand this is not nice but
don’t allow other people to define your happiness.
Happiness is inside yourself, it comes from you and whatever other people say or do, please remember that IT’S THEIR OPINION.
From now on, I would encourage buying a new diary and make your own gratitude book. Write at least 3 good things you made on that day and read it through anytime the negative thinking kicks off.
Anxiety leads to sleep disorder and muscle tensions, try to relax by doing meditation or yoga.
For further reading check this article on the Nature blog.