WIPC 2019: Mental wellbeing in academia

D57a02ba9a9ecb65d11370e3abf4dddc?s=47 Abbie Stevens
June 28, 2019

WIPC 2019: Mental wellbeing in academia

Introduction for a discussion on mental health and mental wellbeing in academia at the Women in Physics Canada 2019 conference.


Abbie Stevens

June 28, 2019


  1. 1.

    MENTAL WELLBEING in academia Women in Physics Canada 2019 McGill

    University, Montréal Dr. Abbie Stevens, she/her/hers alstev@pa.msu.edu; @abigailStev
  2. 2.

    DISCLAIMER I am an astronomy postdoc. I am not a

    mental health professional. I have no training in therapy, counseling, or psychology. This is a peer-to-peer discussion, not expert advice.
  3. 3.

    ➤ Mental health: emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing ➤ How

    you see yourself, how you interact with others, etc. ➤ Mental health is important!! ➤ Mental illness, mental health problems: factors (situational, clinical/biological/chronic) that get in the way of your emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing WHAT DOES “MENTAL WELLBEING” OR “MENTAL HEALTH” MEAN?
  4. 4.

    ➤ Mental health: emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing ➤ How

    you see yourself, how you interact with others, etc. ➤ Mental health is important!! ➤ Mental illness, mental health problems: factors (situational, clinical/biological/chronic) that get in the way of your emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing ➤ Why should we discuss this? ➤ While individual mental wellbeing is very personal, a community has a responsibility for its ‘climate’ and towards its members WHAT DOES “MENTAL WELLBEING” OR “MENTAL HEALTH” MEAN?
  5. 5.


    Stress, work pressure ➤ Burnout ➤ ADHD, ADD ➤ Substance overuse/abuse ➤ Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ➤ Grief, loss ➤ Homesickness ➤ Seasonal Affective Disorder
  6. 6.


    fears ➤ Advisor/department fit ➤ Family and relational problems ➤ Lack of social support (within and outside department) ➤ Prior trauma triggered by heightened grad school/job pressures
  7. 7.

    1 in 4 will have some kind of mental illness

    in their lifetime. Mental Illnesses. 1 in 10 Source(s): Psychological Bulletin, The Harris Poll, Haris Interactive, Nielsen, “U.S. Smartphone Battle Heats up”, 2011 DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Report, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, World Health Organization. iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc. 1 in 6 More common than grey cars 1 in 4 Just how common is 1 in 4? Just as common as iPhone® customers. 60 Million Americans are affected each year. More common than left-handed people How can we fix it? Talking. The more we talk, the more we’ll realize that these illnesses are not unique and that they are treatable. It’s how we’ll make it ok. A public survey showed most people thought mental illnesses were related to: THIS IS STIGMA. STRESS LACK OF WILLPOWER WEAKNESS 1 in 7 More common than people with tattoos
  8. 8.

    STUDIES SHOW ➤ List: abigailstevens.com/studies-of-mental-wellbeing ➤ Graduate students are at

    least twice as likely to experience negative mental wellbeing, especially depression and anxiety, compared to a similarly educated non-grad-school population ➤ Gender & sexuality minorities had significantly higher rates of problems than cis-men ➤ Work and organizational context (incl. satisfaction with mentorship/advising) are significant predictors of PhD students’ mental health
  9. 11.

    RESOURCES ➤ Student counseling center at campus health clinic: at-risk/

    crisis, getting started with therapy/counseling ➤ Check website for links to 24/7 emergency services like hotlines, local domestic violence shelter, etc. ➤ Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist (who will accept your university health insurance, if applicable) ➤ Search the internet for sliding-scale/sliding-fee/pay-what-you- can counseling in your area ➤ Talk with peers, trusted colleague, and/or mentor (in your department or elsewhere)
  10. 14.

    How do you maintain your mental wellbeing? What do you

    do when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
  11. 15.


    water daily ➤ Make getting a full night of sleep every night a priority (8-9 hours) ➤ Taking breaks at work to walk around the building or outside ➤ Exercise regularly (yoga, pilates, jogging, fitness classes, etc.) ➤ Have an exercise buddy! ➤ Check for free weekly fitness classes through grad and/or athletics program ➤ Try not to rely on caffeine and sugar to get your energy, since you’ll crash soon after ➤ Maintain your gut health with probiotics (someone’s therapist recommended this one for them; check with your doc) ➤ Get a massage every few months as your budget allows
  12. 16.


    working hours. More than 50 hours per week is unsustainable and has diminishing (or even negative) returns ➤ Connect with colleagues (don’t suffer in silence) ➤ Spend regular time doing hobbies outside of work ➤ Cooking with others, gardening, team sports, artistic pursuits ➤ Spend time with loved ones (family, friends, significant other, etc.) ➤ Daily meditation (with an app like Headspace or Calm) ➤ Read a book for fun! Abbie likes Bill Bryson and Terry Pratchett ➤ Take real vacations. Turn on your email auto-responder and leave your laptop at home! ➤ Turn off notifications for work email (& social media apps) on phone ➤ Don’t check your results before going to bed (FOR REAL) ➤ See a counselor/therapist regularly, take prescribed medication
  13. 17.


    up from your desk and go for a walk, in a nature area on campus, doing loops around the building ➤ Take 10 slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths ➤ Have a (healthy) snack and a glass of water. Your brain can’t work when it’s out of fuel. There is time for this. ➤ Listen to a music playlist that helps you calm down and re-center yourself ➤ Use “stress ball”-type objects (like a fidget cube) to distract your mind and give it something else to focus on ➤ Break down Insurmountable Task into many bite-sized chunks. Write it all down, cross off as you do them. Use an analog list so that you actually cross it off and not just delete the item digitally ➤ “SOS” sessions in the Headspace meditation app
  14. 19.


    discussion and practice, but not the same ➤ Work-life balance: working constantly will disrupt your personal life, negatively impact your mental health; not working enough will not lead to success in grad school or job ➤ Have a mentor in addition to your advisor, someone who knows your research field but doesn’t have an investment in your current position/grant ➤ Provide reality check, unbiased advice ➤ Research does not have a linear input-output relation ➤ Time management is one of the most important things you learn ➤ People at all career levels in academia can feel like they aren’t productive enough and struggle with mental wellbeing
  15. 20.

    MENTORING AGREEMENTS ➤ Provides structure for a meta-conversation on mentoring

    and feedback styles, level and type of supervision ➤ Intended to be the beginning of a continuous conversation, not a full and complete one-off conversation ➤ "Ten simple rules for developing a mentor–mentee expectations document" by Masters and Kreeger 2017, PLoS Computational Biology ➤ Tailor expectations to audience and environment ➤ Expectations are a two-way street ➤ Convey the big picture ➤ Don’t forget the nitty gritty ➤ Articulate boundaries ➤ Example 1; example 2; example 3 h/t L. Chomiuk and L. Walkowicz
  16. 22.

    ORGANIZING FOR COMMUNITY-BASED SOLUTIONS ➤ Talk amongst ourselves & with

    peers at other universities to see what is possible, what a good outcome could look like ➤ For department/institute-level change, work with a (tenured) professor to advocate for you ➤ Don’t strictly need a climate survey to take action; there are enough institution-specific and meta studies that show that grad students face significant mental health problems (at individual and community levels) ➤ Organize with others (in faculty, or university-wide); if barred from unionizing, create a grad student & postdoc council ➤ Ask CASCA to do a site visit? Evaluate climate, identify problems, offer department-level solutions h/t L. Walkowicz for discussion and conversation
  17. 25.

    LINKS TO RESOURCES ➤ Self-Care with Drs. Sarah, a podcast

    (see esp. ‘Meltdown’ episode) ➤ The Hilarious World of Depression, a podcast ➤ YouTube Yoga! "Yoga with Adriene", "Fightmaster Yoga" ➤ "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" by Dr. D.D. Burns, a book on doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on yourself, recommended by therapists ➤ "The PTSD Workbook" by Dr. M.B. Williams and Dr. S. Pouijula, recommended by social workers and therapists ➤ "Living Well With Depression and Bipolar Disorder" by J. McManamy ➤ #PhDchat, #ECRchat, @chron_ac, @AcademicChatter on Twitter ➤ "5 Things to Do (And Not Do) to Support Someone with Depression" ➤ MakeItOK.org: conversation scripts, posters, stats
  18. 26.


    My Student Self: You Are Not Alone" ➤ "Modest Advice for New Graduate Students" ➤ “20 Warning Signs Your Professor’s Abusing You” ➤ "Opening Up About Stress in Graduate School" ➤ "It's time for physicists to talk about mental health" ➤ "Mental Health Issues Among Graduate Students" ➤ "Is graduate school in chemistry bad for your mental health?" ➤ Wear Your Voice’s guide to destigmatizing mental illnesses ➤ "A Cartoonist’s Playful and Pragmatic Mental Health Guide" ➤ "81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist" ➤ "14 Free and Low-Cost Mental Health Resources" ➤ Really good advice columns like Captain Awkward, Ask Polly, Ask A Manager
  19. 27.


    to Overlook ‘High-Functioning’ Depression" ➤ "This Is What It’s Like To Live With High-Functioning Depression" ➤ "Letitia Wright Opens Up About Her Struggles With Depression, Advocates For Black Mental Health Awareness" ➤ "Learning That Depression Lies: My Mental Health Management Strategy" ➤ "A Day With: Depression"
  20. 28.


    Social Anxiety"; "A Day With: Panic Attacks" ➤ "How I Learned to Make Friends with My Anxiety" ➤ "Anxiety Is An Invalid Excuse" ➤ "How To Talk Yourself Down From An Anxiety Spiral"
  21. 29.

    ARTICLES WITH ADVICE AND PERSPECTIVES: ETC. ➤ "Grappling with graduate

    student mental health and suicide" ➤ Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 focusing on coping with stress ➤ "Why ADHD Is A Feminist Issue And What Happens When It’s Overlooked" ➤ "10 Signs That Made Me Realize I Was An Alcoholic" ➤ "Beat the Burnout" ➤ "Can Science Save Us From a Failed State of Burnout?" ➤ "Here’s What 'Millennial Burnout' is Like for 16 Different People" ➤ "Impostor Syndrome Isn’t The Problem — Toxic Workplaces Are" ➤ "How to Define Success for Yourself" ➤ "How Do You Keep Social Media From Destroying Your Mental Health?"
  22. 30.

    SELF-CARE ➤ "23 Ways to Treat Yourself Without Buying or

    Eating Anything" ➤ "Is That Self-Care or Self-Sabotage?" ➤ "What Nobody Tells You About Self-Care" ➤ "You Feel Like Shit" - an interactive flowchart (also useful in a crisis) ➤ “Non-Binary People Share Their Self-Care Tips" ➤ @tinycarebot and @selfcare_tech on Twitter ➤ The most valuable self-care is building a life from which you don’t feel a regular need to escape.
  23. 31.

    ADVICE ON ADVISING ➤ “Good Advising” (written by a prof,

    for profs) ➤ For grad students and postdocs, mental health begins with faculty" ➤ "The Invisible Injuries of Faculty Mental Health" ➤ "Aftermath of a Professor's Suicide" ➤ What To Say when someone tells you about a mental health problem ➤ National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (your university may have institution access), productivity and wellbeing resources for researchers and mentors ➤ Know what resources your university has to point your mentees towards ➤ If you are a mandatory reporter (or equivalent), inform your students that you are and strongly encourage them to go to the counseling center to get support without initiating a (sometimes re- traumatizing) legal procedure
  24. 32.