A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47% of graduate students suffer from depression, following a previous 2005 study that showed 10% had contemplated suicide. A 2003 Australian study found that that the rate of mental illness in academic staff was three to four times higher than in the general population, according to a New Scientist article.
Read this article to get a glimpse of what PhD scholars may go through in the hindsight..by Jennifer Walker (Jennifer Walker is an ex-physicist turned culture and travel writer living in Europe.)
One night during the third year of my PhD program, I sat on my bed with a packet of tranquilizers and a bottle of vodka. I popped a few pills in my mouth and swigged out of the bottle, feeling them burn down my throat. Moments later, I realized I was making a terrible mistake. I stopped, trembling as I realized what I’d nearly done.
It’s common knowledge that getting a PhD is hard. It’s meant to be. Some even say that if you’re not up all night working or skipping meals, you’re doing it wrong. But while PhD students are not so naive as to enter the program expecting an easy ride, there is a cost to the endeavor that no one talks about: a psychological one.
The days I spent pursuing my PhD in physics were some of my darkest. It wasn’t the intellectual challenges or the workload that brought me down; it was my deteriorating mental health. I felt unsupported, isolated and adrift in uncertainty. Anxiety attacks became a part of my daily life. I drank and cut myself. I sometimes thought I wanted to die.
I might not have felt so alone had I known how many people struggle with mental health issues in academia. A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47% of graduate students suffer from depression, following a previous 2005 study that showed 10% had contemplated suicide. A 2003 Australian study found that that the rate of mental illness in academic staff was three to four times higher than in the general population, according to a New Scientist article. The same article notes that the percentage of academics with mental illness in the United Kingdom has been estimated at 53%.
“I assumed and hoped that simply taking antidepressants and just ‘working harder’ would help enough,” says Jane*, a PhD student in biology who’s been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. “And when things did not quickly improve, this further affected my mood.”
In essence, many PhD students are so accustomed to hard work and self-discipline that they beat themselves up when their efforts to manage depression fail to generate perfect results.
“The issues that affect students in general, which could also factor in for PhD students, is living independently and having independent work,” says Anoushka Bonwick, the projects and relationships officer at the UK charity Student Minds. Equally stressful is the fact that PhD students face “uncertainty about the future, such as funding for research and what they are going to do after a PhD.”
These issues can have an even bigger impact on students who lack supportive advisers.
Other PhD students often suffer from imposter syndrome. This was part of my problem even before signs of serious mental health problems arose. I felt as if I’d gotten this far in my academic career by fluke, and that the top grades I’d received during my undergraduate and master’s studies had been an administrative mistake. This fed into my anxiety as well as my depression.
Imposter syndrome is a frequent problem among high-achieving students who find themselves surrounded with others like them, according to Linda*, a sociology professor from New Jersey. “It’s very common to feel an incompetent fraud, and usually to assume you’re the only one who feels that way,” she says.
The frequency of these problems shouldn’t scare prospective students away from pursuing PhDs. But they should be prepared going in to think about how they will handle psychological challenges as well as intellectual ones.
“Academia is understanding, but perhaps too accepting, that everyone has problems,” says Jane. “Just because many people do have mental health problems, it’s not ok that that’s ‘how it is.’”
Finally, it’s important that both prospective and current PhD students directly confront the tenuous realities of the academic job market and plan accordingly. Uncertainty about the future can take a major toll on students, but they’re less likely to suffer if their entire identities aren’t tied to graduate school.
Given the first opportunity, states have jumped into the warzones on command of the so called administrators, having mandate of their citizens. In the name of the land and people, wars are summoned and brought to the shores of those very citizens’ home. We all know and understand who has to bear the brunt of wars, strives and conflicts. Insurgency across borders, quest to seize more land, desire to have new nations, fanaticism to propagate one’s religion, or the insatiable hunger to be the world power have lead to numerous expeditions throughout the history, be it Alexander the ‘great’ or Hitler; ISIS or Chechen; China or USA.
The recent photographs of a drowned Kurdish child have been doing the rounds across the internet. It is actually ironic that the selfish needs of few lead to horrific experience for millions of innocents. As the photographer, Nilufer herself has accepted how difficult it was to click those pictures. She claimed her reaction on seeing the corpse of the small toddler was “becoming petrified”. In her own words, “Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi was lying lifeless face down in the surf, in his red t-shirt and dark blue shorts folded to his waist. The only thing I could do was to make his outcry heard” She took the pictures to share her feeling and make an “outcry”
Let’s ask ourselves honestly. Who is responsible for Aylan’s death? Who is responsible for the death of Children in USA, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand our very own country? It’s all of US-every single person from each country who remains nothing but mute spectator while carrying out the daily chores for him/her and the immediate family members.
We will make hues and cries on the social media for a few days. Some of us are so damned that we do it mostly in hope of getting more likes and retweets. Oh yes, Candle light processions are not to be forgotten, for a few days and then…. who cares! Life moves on, so do we.
Another crisis till I write another article, self-bashing. Let me enjoy till then.
(Photo Credits: Internet)
A new anthology by Gargi publishers, Crumpled Voices 2, has a story of mine titled ‘The Guinea Pig’.
Wait for a week to get hold of the book….
I thank Poetry World India for this honor! Feeling privileged.
Cheers to Poetry!
Name: Piyush Kaviraj
KS 04, Tata Memorial Center, ACTREC
Kharghar, Navi Mumbai 410210
DATE OF BIRTH (dd-mm-yy): 01 11 1987
Author: Mahlon Ko Bikte Dekha Hai (Rochak Publishing)
Editor: Jazbaati Galiyan (In Press)
Contributing Author: Ishq the rain of love and Crumpled Voices2 (Gargi Publishers)
ज़िन्दगी ही तो है..
कभी पानी की तरह,
कभी ज़हर की तरह
कभी गुस्से के दो घूँट
कभी जाम के दो बूँद,
ज़िन्दगी ही तो है..
© पीयूष कविराज