What is post dissertation depression?

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In this blog we will discuss what post dissertation depression is. 

We will also discuss what are the possible causes of post dissertation depression, and how one can cope with post dissertation depression.

What is post dissertation depression?

Post-dissertation depression is a common phenomenon that is experienced by PhD scholars and master’s scholars who finish their dissertation defence and are in the midst of deciding what to do next in their professional life. 

It is not an official diagnosis but it is commonly a term that is used to refer to the sense of emptiness, anxiety, and low moods that college scholars usually experience after their dissertation defence is over. 

Post dissertation depression often occurs when the dissertation defence ends and all the schedules are dropped, and the scholar no longer has a goal that they drive towards as well as framework for their day to day lives, it can leave the individual feeling a little out of place. 

The depression that these PhD scholars experience during this time is marked by 

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.

What causes post dissertation depression?

Post dissertation depression typically occurs due to an identity crisis where the individual has attained their goal and they are struck with a “what now?” question about the next steps of their professional life. 

It is also possible that it is caused by the complete lack of rigid routines that the scholars are used to due to their academics leaving them ample time to think and reflect on their lives. 

In most cases, it is at this time where they are able to sit in silence away from the rush of their academic life as scholars that they grow anxious about where they are going and who they are becoming which causes anxiety and ultimately depression. 

When the dissertation  ends and all the schedules are dropped, and the scholar no longer has a framework for their day to day lives, it can leave the scholar feeling a little out of place. 

The lack of stimuli in their life or a driving force of a goal- they are given to think about themselves, their friendships and relationships, and their future can lead a scholar to feel worried, anxious, and as this aggravate it can lead the scholar to feel hopeless and helpless. 

This sense of helplessness, feelings of not being prepared enough for work life and the real world etc- that most scholars feel- and the sense of listlessness and displacement they feel can all aggravate leading to a depressive episode during this time. 

Mike Rucker, a writer for unstickme, also writes that one of the major causes of post dissertation depression is that once one has attained their goal, they are faced with a period of transition that they might be prepared for. 

This period can be a time of change in their professional status, identity, expectations and workload and they can also experience confusion when there is a shift in how others see them.

Another crucial aspect is that professionals often experience a shift in how they see themselves, the stress caused by the increase in responsibilities, and the direction of their work once they have attained tenure could be another reason why post dissertation depression occurs.

How to cope with post success depression?

According to writers at Transition Your Life, Here are some ways you can cope and overcome post dissertation depression:

Celebrate and rest

First, what you can do after you have achieved your goals is to celebrate the success of the goal or at the least the fact that you have reached the finish line. 

Celebrate the effort you have made, the achievements you have gained and how much you have learned. 

Now, after you celebrate- go out with friends, go on vacation, throw a party, go on a tour etc- take time to rest. 

Let this time of rest be focused on self care and self love- let it be about you and only you. 

It is okay to allow yourself to let yourself go for a few days but making the effort to stick to routine and structure in your day to day life can help you move forward. 

Allow yourself to feel loved by people who genuinely care for you and seek out new meaning from these positive and healthy relationships. 

You can choose to make new changes that help you feel better or healthier like going to the gym, changing your diet to a more healthy one, going for wants. Sometimes change in routines can also be your way of caring for yourself. 

Go on a sabbatical

Another thing that you can do is to go on a sabbatical and you take time to rest as well as engage in activities that can help you learn new skills and meet new people in the field. 

Nikole Patson, writing for Science,com, wrote that going for a sabbatical and collaborating with other people in a new country is what helped relearn and fall in love with work and the field all over again. 

Accept the uncertainty

Getting comfortable with the uncertainty of human existence by accepting the way you feel and the fact that not everything has a definite answer is one of the first steps you can take to deal with this feeling of existential dread. 

Acceptance can help you be less judgemental over yourself about why you might be feeling sad. Instead of beating yourself up for yourself, you can look at the various choices you can make to feel better by taking the time to assess your symptoms and come to grips with it.

Reaffirm values or seek out new set of values 

By taking the time to explore your life and surroundings, to uncover a new set of values that is authentic to yourself. 

This means re-evaluating self beliefs you had about yourself and the world. It may even require you to unlearn some beliefs and re-learn new beliefs that are realistic and compassionate to your limitations as a human being. 

This will involve mindful attention to your thoughts and your beliefs in regards to everyone around you, the world and its systems, and yourself. 

Go out and Actively seek positive experiences

According to positive psychology research, positive feelings are an important aspect of well-being. 

For a person to engage in activities and other experiences that help them feel positive feelings such as love, belongingness, achievement, and a sense of hope is important.

Even if you do not want to, even if your body is refusing to- take that chance for yourself and choose to do something that makes you feel less miserable. 

Plan a new goal

Give yourself time to plan a new goal, ask yourself what comes next for you and what ideas you would like to explore. 

Let your new goal be based on your new values and beliefs that you have developed over the course of the new goal. 

Take some time to work out the what’s, the whys, and the hows- and envision how you might build on the success you’ve already achieved. 

Develop a Support System

If you are struggling with depression, you will also want to develop a strong support system or have at least one person you can rely on for support. 

You might benefit from joining a support group specifically for depression and/or anger. In support groups, you’re likely to find yourself spending time with people who completely understand your situation.

In addition, if you join a group with a facilitator, you may find that you are offered helpful strategies to better manage your depression and anger. 

Therapy

Seeking professional help to manage and learn more about your situation can be the best thing you can do for yourself and your journey of recovering from depression. 

If you are already in therapy, talking to your therapist about your feelings and the confusion you feel and the times that this lack of grounding has hurt you and others can be a good place to start. 

Your therapist can help you learn strategies on how to deal with your emotions and also help you make lifestyle changes on how to manage them more effectively.

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed what post dissertation depression is. 

We have also discussed what are the possible causes of post dissertation depression, and how one can cope with post dissertation depression.

FAQ related to post dissertation depression

Does life get better after PhD?

No, life does not get better after PhD. infact, it might get significantly harder  because most people go through what is known as post dissertation depression which is caused by a sudden identity crisis caused after one attains a goal they have work for so long that they no longer know where they now stand as a professional as well as in their personal life. 

What to do after finishing the thesis?

First, what you can do after you have achieved your thesis is to celebrate the success of the goal or at the least the fact that you have reached the finish line. 

Celebrate the effort you have made, the achievements you have gained and how much you have learned. 

Now, after you celebrate- go out with friends, go on vacation, throw a party, go on a tour etc- take time to rest. 

Why are PhD students so depressed?

Depression in PhD students can be caused when you are unable to cope with the stress in your life because stress has a variety of mental and behavioural symptoms. 

Many PhD students are often trapped in a cycle of continued work, research, writing, and back to work. This often leads them to forsake their social life and neglect their own selves. 

This lack of balance between work and play often leads to burnout and eventually depression in students who are trying to complete their thesis. 

References

Nikole. Patson. How I recovered from tenure-track burnout. Science. Retrieved on 24th April 2022. https://www.science.org/content/article/how-i-recovered-tenure-track-burnout

Mike Rucker. How To Handle The Post Ph.D. Blues. Unstick me. Retrieved on 24th April 2022. https://unstick.me/handle-post-ph-d-blues/

Angel M. Jones. Coping With Post Defense Depression. Inside highered. Retrieved on 24th April 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2021/05/13/dealing-mixed-emotions-completing-your-phd-opinion

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