Breaking the Silence: Confronting Depression and Anxiety in Academia

Since I have been open about my struggles with academia, I have discovered that I am not alone in this. Many others in academia also deal with depression and anxiety, and the feeling of working hard but not getting anywhere is a common experience. My most popular videos on YouTube and TikTok almost always involve being open about the negative aspects of the career. They are popular because they resonate with many people. It can be difficult to openly talk about these issues because there is often a stigma surrounding mental health and a fear of admitting that the competitive dynamics of academia can be harmful.

However, it is important to break the silence and start a conversation about these issues. By sharing our experiences and being honest about who we are, we can start to make positive changes in academia and support one another in our growth and well-being.

By the way, I am not a medical professional, and if you need help, please contact a medical professional as soon as possible. It really does help. I can speak from experience. I have gained a lot of wisdom by talking through many of the issues that I have experienced with a health professional. Unsurprisingly, many of these experiences are not new to health professionals and they know how to walk you through it. Seek out those in your community that deal specifically with academia.

The depression and anxiety that many of us feel in academia is a very real and prevalent issue. The pressures and demands of academia, such as the need to consistently produce research and publish, can be overwhelming and lead to negative mental health outcomes. The competitive nature of academia can also contribute to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. You only speak openly if you want to look “weak.” These struggles are often compounded by the fact that academia can be isolating, with long hours spent working alone. I often go months without seeing anyone. It is important to recognize and address the mental health challenges that many in academia face, and to create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes well-being and mental health.

The fact that you work and don’t get anywhere is very real. The feeling of working hard but not getting anywhere in academia is unfortunately a common experience. The competition for limited resources, such as funding and job opportunities, can make it seem like no matter how hard you work, you are not making progress or achieving your goals. This can be demoralizing and lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to leave the career – and often still feel like this.

Why not start talking about it? It is important to start talking about anxiety and depression in academia for several reasons. First, by opening up about these issues, we can help to break the stigma surrounding mental health and create a more supportive and inclusive environment. This can make it easier for people to seek help when they need it and feel more comfortable being open about their struggles. To be honest – it is somewhat of a “junior” mistake to say that this is easy and that you have it all together.

It is not. You don’t.

Second, talking about anxiety and depression can help to raise awareness about the prevalence of these issues in academia and the impact they can have on people’s lives and careers. This can lead to a greater understanding of the challenges that people in academia face and a greater willingness to address and support those challenges. Part of the challenge today is the culture that academia does not matter. Yes, this has always been the case because academia almost always questions authority in society, but it has grown in the last few decades. It takes a toll to know that only researchers understand what you are saying.

Finally, talking about anxiety and depression can help to create a sense of community and connection with others who may be going through similar experiences. This can provide a sense of comfort and validation, and can help people to feel less alone and isolated. You are not alone!

Why Am I Open About Anxiety & Depression In Academia?

For me, it is a personal journey. I really don’t care about you – if you does help you, I think that is amazing – but it is a means for me to grow as a person. It is a means for me to say “screw you” to the world, and not to walk the walk that is the norm. I actually want to change me, and perhaps by changing me, I will make a small change in the world.

The places you are afraid to go is where you will grow the most.

When you are uncomfortable, that means you are growing as a person. Feeling uncomfortable can often be a sign of personal growth. When we are challenged or put in situations that are unfamiliar or difficult, it can be uncomfortable and even painful. However, it is often through these experiences that we learn and grow the most. By stepping outside of our comfort zone and facing our fears, we can develop new skills, perspectives, and strengths. While it is natural to want to avoid discomfort, it is important to embrace it as a necessary part of the learning and growth process. By facing challenges head on and learning to cope with discomfort, we can ultimately become more resilient and capable individuals.

I don’t like speaking openly about depression and anxiety in academia. I am “outing” the profession, opening up the Kimono and risking being stigmatized.

It is very difficult to openly talk about those things because no one wants to admit that the winner-take-all dynamics of academia is really hurting people. Additionally, many people may be reluctant to admit that the competitive and high-stakes nature of academia is contributing to these issues. The “winner-take-all” dynamics of academia, where there are often limited resources and opportunities, can create a sense of pressure and competition that can be harmful to people’s well-being.

It is the classic problem. Those who are at the top of the game, believe there is no problem or believe it was hard for them, so it should be hard for everyone else.

What I see instead is academia as a funnel. At the bottom of the funnel is the many people that try and give up, leaving them feeling bitter. At the top, are the people that prosper. In theory, the best rise to the top. However, far too often, I see talented people give up because they did not get any outcomes. If we assume that academic research is process of learning about uncertain outcomes that occur long into the future, it is not very difficult to see that this will lead to a great deal of people not performing at their best.

Ask anyone that wants to encourage children to learn and prosper – you give them may rewards often, encourage all actions, and love them unconditionally.

Instead, academia is a game of conditional ‘love’ – only actions that result in success (e.g., journal articles of a specific type) are rewarded.

People who have been in academia for a long time are likely familiar with the challenges and pressures that can lead to anxiety and depression. They may have witnessed firsthand the impact that the competitive dynamics of academia can have on people’s well-being and have a keen understanding of the need for change. Everyone knows at least a few people that “did not make it.”

It is important to listen to these voices and consider the ways in which academia can be made more supportive and inclusive. By changing the conversation and openly discussing the challenges that people in academia face, we can start to identify solutions and create positive changes. This may involve reevaluating the systems and structures that contribute to unhealthy competition and stress, and finding ways to create a more supportive and sustainable work environment.

Why not start talking and letting people know who you really are?

Let’s start changing it one small message at a time.

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