Lo and behold, the Guardian has managed to say something worthwhile about mental health in academia! (I’ll refrain from any barbed comments about monkeys and typewriters.) Yesterday, they published the results of a survey of mental health experiences of people working in academia. Their analysis of over 2,500 responses found that two thirds of saw their mental illness as a direct result of their job. That’s over 1500 people whose job is making them sick. Over half of respondents felt isolated and others raised concerns over workload, long working hours, pressure to publish and a culture of bullying. While, of course, there are massive limitations regarding the self-selecting nature of the sample, what these results do tell us is that mental health is a massive issue in academia. It also points systemic issues which can make academia a pretty unhealthy place to work. There is clearly a need for more methodologically robust studies into the mental state of those working in academia.
It’s not just us! This sort of coverage of mental health is a great start because it tells all of us out there who think we’re on our own in experiencing these issues that we’re part of a wider problem. This has all sorts of implications for starting conversations around mental health in the workplace and breaking down stigma towards those who experience mental health issues. It also hopefully puts mental well-being squarely on the agenda for universities.
So what can we do? Well we can start by asking our universities some pretty hard questions. How are they going to respond to this Guardian report? What steps are they going to take to improve provision for academics and students experiencing mental health issues? How are they going to work to create a more mentally healthy environment?
The most important thing to come out of this study for me is the knowledge that we have a voice. Let’s use it. Tweet your university. Email your university. Facebook your university. Ask how they are responding to the Guardian’s report. Ask what they are doing to improve mental wellbeing and support for academics.