Depression in academia (+3 coping tips)

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Page last updated: 28/10/2022

Depression in academia (+3 coping tips)

This article will discuss how often depression can happen to people that are in academia. It will show how this environment can cause people to feel depressed, and what ways they can cope with this situation.

Depression in academia

Depression in academia has become more and more frequent. People that are in it are constantly talking about the pressure they are in, the excessive workload, and even more about the competitive environment. All of that boils down to a sense of being overwhelmed and drained.

And even though it is extremely common, people in academia have a hard time sharing about their depression, or any other form of mental illness. This is usually related to this fear of being judged or showing weakness. 

But in time, when you are going through that, the spark that made you choose academia life can change, and you can start to question why you decided to do it in the first place. Questioning yourself may be important to know if pursuing this field still makes sense to you. 

But it is not only that. It may be impossible to just leave academia behind. You may need to start to get a grip on why this is happening, separate what is within your control to handle, and what is beyond it. And deal with the situations that academia brings you less negatively.

With that said, it is important to identify why academia usually has such a negative impact on people’s mental health, to later discuss what are ways to deal with this.

Why does it happen?

When you decided to pursue an academic career, you may have thought of all those amazing teachers you had. All the knowledge they would share with their students, and even how caring some of them were. But once you are a part of this universe, you may realize that things are not as they seemed from the outside.

The first thing you may have realized is how the research you take part in is not possible to frame on time. When you are a part of academia, with each new research you start, you may have a notion of when they will finish, but it never goes like that. 

This difficulty in setting a schedule not only makes you anxious about the research but also prevents you from planning the next steps of your life.

Another thing that causes academia to make people depressed is the constant competition and criticism you may experience. It is a highly competitive environment, in which people are always trying to beat the steps done by others. So as soon as you make one research public, a peer may try to improve it, or can even criticize it. 

This can make you feel unsure all the time. It can even make it harder for you to enjoy the steps forward you make. As soon as you finish one research you may start to obsess about what people will say about it and that can be extremely detrimental to your mental health. 

The lack of appreciation and recognition for the long hours and all the hard work you have done can be extremely hard on your self-esteem, and your sense of self-worth. And another relationship that can be hard in academia is the relationship between you and your advisor.

Some people may have experienced extremely positive relationships with their advisors. But that doesn’t happen to everyone. Sometimes the person you are looking for to help you improve is the one that may hold you back.

Some of them, in a competitive manner, may try to hold some students back, when they realize the work they are doing is too good. Another thing that makes academia so difficult is how it takes time from your life.

When you are pursuing this career, it may be hard to maintain a proper social life. As said before, researchers don’t have a schedule. It can be a Christmas morning when something happened in the way you wanted and you have to run to the lab. 

In time, this can also have an impact on your mental health. But let’s discuss how you can deal with this situation.

Depression in academia (+3 coping tips)

How can I cope with depression in academia? 

If you feel depressed because of how the academic world has been affecting you, there are some things you can do. The first thing to do is to embrace how you feel. Because depression and other mental illnesses are seen as a sign of weakness, it can be hard for you to accept what you are going through. 

But have in mind that avoiding looking at it will only make matters worse. Accepting the condition is the first step in moving from it. It is what will allow you to look for professional help. Which is the second thing you can do. Nowadays many universities offer a mental health support program. 

But if you don’t feel comfortable looking for treatment inside the university, you can look for therapists and psychiatrists in other clinics. There are a lot of great professionals that will be able to help you in going through this.

In therapy, you will be able to share your emotions, learn better how to handle them, and how to navigate what you are going through. As for the psychiatrist, he may discuss with you the use of medication to help relieve your symptoms of depression.

Aside from that, you may want to try and set a balance between your work life and your personal life. When you invest all of your energy in your work life, it can be that your whole identity and self-worth are related to this one specific part of your life.

The more you work on building a good life for yourself that is fulfilling not only from a professional point of view, but you will also be able to feel happier. Aside from that, when you are depressed, having people you can vent to, and feel supported is extremely important.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Why does academia make people depressed? 

What is Post-grad depression? 

Post-grad depression is a condition that causes the person to experience intense sadness, loss of purpose, and stress once they end their Ph.D. This usually happens because the person devotes so much of their time and energy to developing their research, that once they are done, they can feel lost.

The end of the Ph.D. can make the person feel as if they have lost their identity, which can lead to them feeling empty. Along with that, they will need to decide what to do with the time they have available, which used to be so rare when they were doing their Ph.D.

It can take some time to cope with Post-Phd depression. The person needs to adjust to their new life, and fill their life with new interests and people. Having their loved ones close can help, as well as being open to trying new things. 

How can I handle being rejected for a grant? 

Rejection is never easy to handle. When you are doing research, and you are applying for a grant, it can be extremely stressful. It can be what defines if your work will go ahead or not. So fill all the papers out, and show how important your research is fundamental.

But sometimes, even if you have done everything the way you are supposed to, you still might not get the grant you were hoping for. This can affect not only how you will handle your research, but it can impact your self-esteem, and sense of self-worth.

The first thing to know is that it can happen to anyone. You did all that you could, you filled all the forms, and sometimes some things are beyond your control. 

It is important to also keep in mind that just because this grant hasn’t come as you had imagined, there are others that you can apply to. Don’t put all your value and chance of success on this one possibility. 

Know that even though you can’t control if you will be given the grant or not, what you can control is bettering your chances of which others you will apply to.

Does my brain recover after depression? 

Yes, your brain recovers when you get better from depression. When you are going through this, there will be a reduced level of many neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin, and dopamine. But on the other hand, the level of others may rise, such as cortisol, which is responsible for making you handle stress.

As you are depressed, some parts of your brain may even shrink, like the hippocampus. But what you need to have in mind is that once you improve, your brain will, little by little, recover itself. And this is how you will notice your cognition is improving. 

All of that is only possible because our brain has a characteristic that is known as plasticity. It adjusts to what is happening to you, and it can recover. 

What is brain fog?  

Brain fog is a condition that causes a person to become forgetful, lose their ability to focus, and become more irritable. It can happen when the person faces a huge amount of workload, if they are having trouble sleeping, or even going through a lot of stress. 

When a person experiences brain fog, they can have trouble making decisions, and dealing with complicated situations. As a way to improve from it, the person should care for their physical well-being by eating and sleeping well, but also exercising.

But not only that, they should look at ways to help them handle stress better. It can be through therapy or my finding activities that bring them joy. 

What is situational depression?

Situational depression is a condition in which the person feels stressed, and even sad, in the process of adjusting to something. For example, post-PhD depression may be a form of situational depression.

The person went through a change in their life, and it may be having an emotional impact on them. And they need time to adjust to this new situation. Situational depression usually lasts a few weeks, and therapy can help the person find new possibilities to live their lives.

Conclusion

This article showed how academia can make people depressed. It explained why it happens and why it has become so common. Aside from that, the article discussed ways for people to deal with depression in academia.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.

References

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04998-1
https://www.uni-konstanz.de/en/doknet/mental-health-in-academia/