YOU can do it!
It is possible to balance your life. Even though sometimes it gets dark, remember that you got this. It is possible to get better. Even if you fall and it is frustrating, this is just a small rock in your path. Prioritize and take care of yourself, take time for what you love and if you need to, slow down to catch your breath. Learn to be kinder to yourself. And, if you need some extra help, ask for it. A good support network can make a tremendous difference.
To improve my work – life balance and in turn also my mental health, I do things that I love and take time for myself. Resting after long days of work, exercising, doing things with my friends, and travelling is all good for me. I prioritize the things that make me happy. Therapy has also become essential for me.
Let’s talk about mental health in academia
It has become more common to talk about mental health issues, also in academia. Support networks are being set up and some affected scientists talk about what they deal with. I would like to encourage a conversation about how we can reduce the stigma of mental health issues in academia. What can we do to encourage students with mental health challenges to enter academia? What needs to change to reduce the risk of compromising your mental health, because of being a scientist?
Generally acknowledged steps to improve the mental health of PhD students – and as a side-effect also quality of research[5,6], include:
Supervision: a realistic research plan including alternatives with regular interactions and reviews;
Financial- and job security: funding secured for the whole PhD, not only short, temporary contracts
Work-life balance: regular breaks are not only allowed but encouraged; long working-days and weekends should be the exception, not the rule; project management training for PhD students
Career development: preparing PhD students for what comes next – most probably a career outside academia: only 3-5% of PhD holders become professors
Mental health support: should be available to all students through their institutions; open communication about mental health issues
Now it is up to universities and funding agencies, but also to every single supervisor and students themselves, to take better care of mental health of scientists.