A study recently published in Nature Biotech reported that PhD and master’s students worldwide have rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those in the general public.
The report, based on the responses of 2,279 students in 26 nations, found that more than 40% of respondents had anxiety scores in the moderate to severe range, and that nearly 40% showed signs of moderate to severe depression.
In a follow-up feature, Nature spoke to five scientists who have experienced mental health difficulties. The problems they reported will be familiar to many, and you can read their stories here.
But what are some of the solutions?
Whether it’s through your personal support network of friends and family, or formal support through your university, no one should have to struggle alone. Many universities are increasingly aware of the need for mental health support for PhD students and other academics.
Support your peers
A PhD student interviewed in the Nature article experienced anxiety around paper citations, feeling like he was “shouting into the void”. Now he tries to stop others experiencing the same thing. “When I see a paper that I find interesting, I make sure to send the author an e-mail or message them on Twitter. I say: “I just read your paper — it helped me with some concepts. I look forward to seeing your future work.” It lets people know that they have worth. That sort of support doesn’t have to come from superiors.”
Realise there is more to life than publication
One PhD student writes “Sometimes I question my worth to society… Everyone is publishing and publishing because that’s where the money in science comes from. But if everyone is publishing and nobody is reading, are we making a contribution? Are we really doing anything important?”
For her, the solution lay in cultivating a life outside the lab, so a journal rejection became less of an all-consuming issue. Science communication and education can also be a source of satisfaction and validation.
Recognise more than the traditional research outcomes
It’s easier said than done, but one research fellow interviewed by Nature is passionate about reforming hyper-competitive scientific culture. “We need to better reward non-traditional outcomes, such as data sets, research methods and code. And we need to better appreciate activities outside of the lab, such as public engagement, education and outreach. That’s the way towards achieving substantial and lasting change.” It sounds a lot like the Kindness in Science movement, whose founders hope to offer a kinder, gentler and more inclusive scientific culture.