Mental health in academia

For many of you, your exams are fastly approaching; including mine. For others of you, you may be about to face a challenge in your life. Which ever it is, this will be a very important time where your mental health needs to be considered.

Recently I read a very important article on academia and mental health specifically focusing on those who are studying for PHD's; you can read this article here. Although it's not surprising to me that mental health seems to be affected around exam time, the article still managed to shock me. There were students who had eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and who were battling depression due to their academics. I know from experience that it's not unusual for a student to put their exams above their mental health, but it is an issue we all need to consider and is sadly often avoided. 

When seeing the sacrifices students face written down, it brings the issue to the forefront. The article notes how some students quit their PHD without finishing, or feel so much pressure that the only way to escape is to commit suicide, and unfortunately some do as a result. This too can be applied to all areas of education. I am currently studying for my A-levels and it's true to say that many of my peers and myself included are beginning to feel the stress. Often, you can get so overwhelmed with your exams and feel so trapped because of the pressure.

Mental health in academia is very rarely addressed in open discussion and this can apply to work too. Let's just remember that one in four of us will experience a mental health condition in any one year; it's common! In my experience throughout education, my school and teachers have been amazing in helping me with any troubles I may face and I cannot thank them enough. However, I know some people aren't as fortunate.

Let me reassure you, there are so many people out there who are willing to support you and there are so many people that have felt the way that you do about your exams and the challenges they are facing and have survived. 'Survived' seems a word that exaggerates the situation, but unfortunately it doesn't. To get through being suicidal or having suicidal thoughts and to come out of the other side is something that you have battled through.

Because these feelings cannot be seen and because mental illness is hidden, too often we find ourselves oblivious. But, you'd be so surprised at how many people need a helping hand and are feeling the pressure just like you are. Asking someone how they're doing now and then is a step in the right direction for better mental health.

One final point is based upon this quote written in the article:
"It is not OK for PhD students to become so affected by their studies that they kill themselves.
It is not OK for PhD students to maintain the culture of working yourself to the point of illness.
It is not OK for academics to wash their hands of the situation."
I will tell you exactly the same. Whether it be your GCSE's, A-levels, Degree or any other challenge, it is not okay for someone to suffer so much that they feel they can no longer cope. Unfortunately this is too often the case and closer to home than we think. 

I want to reassure you that this will come and pass. I know that in the future many say that these problems won't seem as big as they once were, but for you at this time in your life it is the main issue your life surrounds. I remember my GCSE's and felt overwhelming pressure. But the important thing is, that I and many of my peers managed to get through it. Please, it is really important to find someone to talk to if you are feeling stressed, regardless of exams. Whether that be your teachers, your family, friends or a charity. People are willing to help you and talking was the best thing I ever did.

I wish all the best with what challenges you are facing at the moment. As mentioned in my assembly this morning "whether you think you can or you can't, you're right." - you can do it! You can only do your best and I wish you good luck. Remember, talk to someone if you're feeling stressed and most importantly, look after your mental health. 

I'll leave you with this video:

I hope this has helped some of you and by sharing this post, you will be helping others and raising awareness of mental health in academia. 

Best Wishes,