is mental illness on the rise in academia?

source: this website

A recent post on the Guardian Higher Education Network blog highlighted that mental health problems are on the rise among UK academics amid the pressures of greater job insecurity, constant demand for results and an increasingly marketised higher education system. University counselling staff and workplace health experts have seen a steady increase in numbers seeking help for mental health problems over the past decade, with research indicating nearly half of academics show symptoms of psychological distress.

The article, which reported instances of depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, alcoholism, self-harming, and even suicide attempts among PhDstudents, has been shared hundreds of thousands of times and elicited comments outlining similar personal experiences from students and academics. But while anecdotal accounts multiply, mental health issues in academia are little-researched and hard data is thin on the ground. However, a study published in 2013 by the University and College Union (UCU) actually revealed that academics experience higher stress than those in the wider population, the survey revealed.

Pat Hunt, head of Nottingham University’s counselling service for staff and students and a member of the UK body for heads of university counselling services, said all universities were experiencing an increase in mental health problems. “There are increasing levels of anxiety, both generalised and acute, levels of stress, of depression and levels of what I would call perfectionism“, she says. “By that I mean when someone is aiming for and constantly expecting really high standards, so that even when there is a positive outcome they feel they have fallen short. So instead of internal aspiration helping them to do well it actually hinders them“.

Dr Alan Swann of Imperial College London, chair of the higher education occupational physicians committee, blamed “demands for increased product and productivity” for rising levels of mental health problems among academics. He says: “They all have to produce results – you are only as good as your research rating or as good as your ability to bring in funding for research“. Swann says most academics are stressed rather than mentally unwell: “They are thinking about their work and the consequences of not being as good as they should be; they’re having difficulty switching off and feeling guilty if they’re not working seven days a week“. Academics and researchers can become isolated and not realise how “out of kilter” their working lives are, he says. The intense pressure of doctoral and post-doctoral study, and early-career academia can also reveal existing mental health problems, he adds. Universities, including Imperial, have improved systems to help, yet academia remains “pretty macho”.

Research by Gail Kinman, professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, on behalf of the UCU, offers one of the few pieces of data on mental health problems among academics. There are examples of good practice within universities which could be shared across the sector, Kinman says, but, as an independently-minded group who are strongly committed to their work, academics are not always straightforward to support. “We don’t like being told ‘you can’t email at two in the morning’. You can’t impose solutions from other sectors – academics are quite different and there’s no ‘one size fits all’“.

If academics already in post must wrestle with the stresses of fast change, what of their successors? Edward Pinkney, a mental health consultant working in education, says: “Institutions have a broader civic duty to educate potential academics about the university environment, so that prospective academics can make a more informed decision about whether or not to proceed. As universities become increasingly businesslike, there’s a growing need for them to be independently monitored to ensure that they are not just meeting basic standards of support for their members, but also that they are providing an accurate representation of academic life and not misselling it“.

this second year (and a half)

Lirmm_vu_du_ciel_petit_formatEt voilà, more or less yesterday I was writing about the end of my first year of PhD thesis, and now almost two years and a half have already passed. This means that theoretically, before next Santa’s visit, I should be a doctor…

These last 14 months in another city, another lab, another atmoshpere, another group of friends (awesome people) have been… enlightening, from many points of view. I’ve learnt (and I’m still learning, and I still have to learn) a lot about myself, about people, about the world of research. I also had the wonderful opportunity to teach (well, simply assisting students during exercises sessions, nothing epic), so… I’m happy to have experienced all this and I want to thank every single person who made such part of my life so special 🙂

Next step is to keep on endeavouring so as to end this PhD in the best possible way…

phd021907s

The Contact section is updated, as well as my CV (I’ve added some details about my teaching experience). I’ve also created the Links section, it is supposed to host banners of interesting webpages, more or less scientific 🙂 If you would like your banner to appear in this section, please send me an e-mail.

10k & Guestbook

Hi everybody! People seem to appreciate my blog, that tonight achieved the goal of ten thousand views! That was unexpected in slightly more than one year of regular activity 🙂

diecimila

So, first of all, thank you very much!

guestbookI would appreciate receiving your comments and feedbacks about my blog! Feel free to let me know your opinions about what I’ve published. If there is something in particular you would like me to write a post about, feel free to leave your comment on the new Guestbook (or just click on the image, or access it from the horizontal navigation bar over here) 🙂

what’s LIRMM ?

I spent the first year of my PhD in Brest, at the LaTIM laboratory (Télécom Bretagne). I wrote a short post about it, giving a brief description of its research topics and some contacts. Currently, I’m carrying out the second year of this project in Montpellier, in another laboratory called LIRMM. Et voilà a new post with a quick description of this lab and its robotics department 🙂

lirmm

The Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics, and Micro-electronics (LIRMM in French) is a cross-faculty research entity of the University of Montpellier 2 (UM2) and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). LIRMM is located at the Saint-Priest campus of University of Montpellier 2 (about 5 km from the city center).

LIRMM research activities cover a broad range of topics, ranging from informatics to systems, from technology to people and applications, including:

  • Design and verification of integrated, mobile and communicating systems,
  • Agent-based modelling of complex systems,
  • Research on algorithms, bioinformatics, human-machine interaction, robotics and more.

Work is carried out in three main scientific research departments, each of which is organized into project teams:

  1. The Informatics department covers topics that range from the leading edge of modern mathematics to applied research: graph algorithms, bioinformatics, cryptography, networks, databases and information systems (data integration, data mining, coherency maintenance), software engineering (programming languages, objects, components, models), artificial intelligence (learning, constraints, knowledge representation, multi-agent systems) and human-machine interaction (natural language, visualization, Web semantics and e-learning).
  2. The Microelectronics department carries out cutting-edge research in the fields of designing and testing integrated systems and micro-systems, with a focus on architectural aspects, modelling and methodology.
  3. The Robotics department concentrates on issues related to synthesis, monitoring and management of complex dynamic systems (robots, robot/life interfaces), as well as navigation, localisation and steering of local and remote autonomous vehicles, and image analysis, coding and processing. The main research themes are the design of mechanical systems, the modeling, identification and control of robots, and perception. The department’s privileged field of application is health-related robotics applications (medical, handicaps), with activities that also include fields such as industry manufacturing and robotic exploration.

robotics at lirmmsource: LIRMM official website

this first year

The first year of my PhD has almost gone. I’ve spent 10 months here in Télécom Bretagne – Brest and it has been amazing! From the scientific/academic point of view I feel like I’ve learnt many useful things. My project is working out fine and I’ve just submitted my first publication (on croise les doigts!!). Concerning more personal achievements, I’ve met wonderful people and made really close friends… it won’t be too difficult to keep in touch, since we’re all staying more or less “close to each other” thanks to thousands of stages, internships, new PhD projects that are about to start in the next months. World is not big at all and we’ll meet again, for sure 🙂

Starting from September, the second year of my PhD will be entirely spent at the LIRMM Laboratory in Montpellier. It seems like it will be a brand new experience for me, after these two years in France my lifestyle will change a bit… basically, no more University Campus but apartment in downtown (Contact section is already up to date)! Let’s see what happens… in any case, this first year has been wonderful and I’ll always make treasure of such experiences.

See you soon, Brest 😉

Télécom Bretagne - Brest , the campus