Our mental health fluctuates as our life changes. We all have times when we feel down, stressed, or angry, and most times these feelings pass. But sometimes, they develop into complex mental health problems.

Getting definitions straight

Let's talk about mental healthDistress occurs when we cannot cope with chronic stress in a positive way. This “can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system”, according to the American Psychology Association. Distress can be the start of a mental illness, like depression. Depression is, according to the World Health Organisation, “a common mental disorder characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for at least 2 weeks”. Depression is an extremely serious disease resulting in a chemical imbalance in the brain, that can prevent joy and lead to isolation, affect relationships and social interactions. Even though it is a psychiatric disease, depression is as serious and real as a physical illness such as cancer or hepatitis.

How do mental health problems affect us?

Mental health problems can manifest in many different symptoms and signs. If our feelings or thoughts stop us from living our life normally, have a big impact on those around us, or affect our mood over a long period of time, we should see these as red flags.

Warning signs:

  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Emotional numbness, feeling absent-minded
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased drug and/or alcohol consumption
  • Feelings of guilt, grief, or worthlessness
  • Isolation, avoiding friends and colleagues
  • Feeling like everything we try to do is exhausting
  • Becoming thin-skinned
  • Experiencing difficulty in focusing, making unusual mistakes at work
  • Experiencing difficulty motivating ourselves and keeping plans
  • Looking dishevelled
  • Joking about suicide
*These warning signs are just indications- always seek the help of specialists to understand your mental health status.*

Knowing your mental health status

The best way to find out about your mental health status is by consulting a doctor or a psychologist. If you are reluctant to go straight to a specialist but think you might be having mental health issues, you can try The Goldberg test as a first indication. It is a resource used by professionals and measures the severity of depression.

Support each other

Talking about mental health can be scary, but talking often helps and can mean a lot to the person having a difficult time. If you are worried about someone’s mental health state, start by approaching this person in a warm, authentic way, giving them time to realise you care. Devote full attention and listen actively. Here you can find out more about how to interact with someone experiencing depression.

Read more on this topic

Read 7 reasons why we get stressed during our PhD, which explores the reasons why PhD students find themselves stressed, and the importance of acknowledging mental health issues.

Take a look at our article Feeling overwhelmed by academia? You are not alone. It summarises advice from several researchers on how to maintain good mental health in the hyper-competitive environment of science.

Or take a look at the Downloadable poster guide: Mental Health During Your PhD

About the author

Marta OliveiraMarta Oliveira is a PhD researcher in MDC Berlin, Germany, studying the role of microtubule dynamics in angiogenesis. She is passionate about transforming academia into a safe, inclusive and dynamic workspace.

Marta, an EACR member, has written a series of articles for us around the topic of mental health. This series is an adaptation of a project she, Laura Breimann and Lorena Lopez Zepeda developed as MDC PhD representatives. The original project website can be found here.
Marta’s email: marta.oliveira.scientist@gmail.com
Marta’s LinkedIn & Twitter.

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