The webinar “Mental Health during your PhD” held on 19 January has been organised to provide early-stage researchers with an introduction and practical tips on mental health and well-being. The webinar gathered more than 390 viewers cross-platforms.
Mathias Schroijen (Eurodoc), Ewa Pluciennicka (PhD Success) and Marie Montaldo (European University Foundation) talked about the increased relevance of mental health support, the need for joint actions at EU and national level and gave practical advice as well as presented initiatives and tools that can support PhD candidates, including the PhD Success online platform, Eurodoc’s advocacy work on mental health and the PhD Hub platform.
How would you rate your mental health?
There are different stages in the journey to obtaining your PhD – everyone goes through ups and downs but you should never feel isolated, alone or helpless facing your doctoral challenges. General isolation, uncertainty and fears about what the future holds, especially during these times of crisis, create a climate of anxiety which impacts your mental health and well-being. The first step in getting better at safeguarding your mental health is therefore linked to the acknowledgement of the problem itself, your ability to take concrete actions and know which are the support mechanisms in place.
Many studies have shown that the more common causes of distress and concern among PhD candidates are related to achieving a healthy work-life balance, ensuring their future career path, getting funding and managing financial issues. They are often required to excel in their field of science, publish papers and be highly mobile which put additional stress and pressure on their shoulders.
While Eurodoc and other organisations have called on the European Institutions (see Eurodoc’s FP9 statement) to address more effectively this issue by providing further funding to identify core issues and provide recommendations as well as put in place support mechanisms, some things are left to the individuals to handle.
What can you do to take care of your mental health?
★ Talk with friends and colleagues: Connecting with your friends and colleagues is critical to get feedback on your experience as a PhD candidate, and thus be able to relativise. Getting in touch with others, who have gone through similar experiences can truly change your perspective on your work value, efficiency and quality and on the (too) high expectations, you have set for yourself. While it can be difficult for some of us to talk directly to our friends and family, you will surely find a sympathetic ear with your peers or a confidential counsellor.
★ Set realistic goals: Too often, we set unrealistic goals for ourselves which can result in a feeling of failure and depression. Talk with your supervisor about it and adapt your work plan if necessary. (re)Arranging your daily schedule, including proper breaks, social activities and exercising time is found to be a good way to improve your work-life balance, be more productive and feel happier overall. When you have thrown yourself into the highest level of studies and training, you have made this choice to achieve a certain ambition (which is unique to you) – don’t lose sight of it. Your PhD is not your life but only a part of it.
★ Take part in PhD communities’ activities: Social activities or networking can boost your sense of belonging – and belonging to a community is key to understanding the big picture, feeling helpful and happier. With the PhD Hub, PhD Success and Eurodoc, you can join a research-based community and connect with others. You can help yourself and help others.
★ Be confident in your skills and qualities: We have all, one day, listed our strengths and weaknesses on a piece of paper. Often, we underestimate the power of such an exercise or worse, we overlook our strengths and the negative aspects prevail. This is quite human. Take time to properly be able to reflect on your skills and qualities – often, it is good to ask friends and family as it is not obvious to us – but allocating time to identifying those can certainly help you to manage further stressful situations in the best way possible and avoid pitfalls.
Those general tips can help you get started, but you will find many more in our webinar. On PhD Hub, you can also browse all our useful tips from Mental Health to Employability and more.