What does a PhD mean to you?
Expert Knowledge, Overwhelming Workload; responsibility, Expectations; independence, Accountability; collaboration, Alienation; international travel, Disconnection; supportive environment, Isolation … Loneliness, Detachment, Depression, Anxiety.
The fruits of research come in many flavours.
Some people appear to sail through their projects but, for others, it can feel more like sinking. If I’m being honest, sometimes I feel like I’m not very good at research. The extra experience I worked so hard for during my undergrad feels like something someone else did. Did I actually learn those things? What book was that in? What is it I’m supposed to be doing here? What is my role in this project? I might look calm and collected on the outside – laid back, even – but sooner or later, they’re going to find out the truth: I don’t belong here.
If this sounds at all familiar to you, then you may already be on first name terms with some of the words above. But here’s the thing: you’re not alone: The Guardian has a selection of stories and blog posts around the mental health crisis currently going on at UK universities and Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. It’s normal to feel distressed in a highly stressful environment – and the research environment is highly stressful.
Over time, routine stress can lead to, or exacerbate, serious mental health issues and it’s important to recognise that these are just as valid as physical health problems. The aim of this post is to help make you aware of what signs to look out for, what you can do to help your mental health, and what support is available to you throughout the University.
First, though, I’m going to share an old West of Scotland proverb with you:
‘When life gives you lemons … Squeeze lemon juice into your eyes, letting the acidity dissolve your corneas, until you can’t see the problem anymore.’
It’s a metaphorical situation, obviously, but the tradition of burying your head in the sand is well practiced all over the world and, in that particular sport, I’m an athlete.
Around a year ago, though, I decided to try a different approach. I decided to try and be open about my own mental health. I came out as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and have since tried to openly address the associated mental health issues: I have a mentor from the National Autistic Society (NAS), I attend meetings and support groups, and I do what I can to tackle any mental health issues head on. In other words: I am seeking support.
You might not realise it, but support is all around you
Talk it Out
If you think that counselling could help you, the Counselling and Psychological Services department is located at 67 Southpark Avenue and offers a range of different options – including the opportunity to speak with a qualified counsellor. The first step is to arrange an initial consultation. Once the service has received your details, they will contact you, via your student email address, with the full registration form and an initial screening questionnaire. It’s important to make sure you check your student email on a regular basis. It may take a while between registration and your first appointment, so if you are contemplating making use of the counseling services, please do not hesitate to register.
Their appointment page has some important information that you should read through: including what to expect and how to prepare. You can also register with the service by dropping in to the address above during normal office hours.
If you feel like you need to speak with someone quickly – and can’t wait for an appointment – there are four 50 minute slots reserved each day for drop in consultations. These are bookable from 9 am on the same day as the consultation takes place.
Although I have never used any counselling services, I do have access to a form of talking therapy through my NAS mentor. Even though I was initially a little bit apprehensive, I find that it’s very beneficial to me when I’m particularly stressed. If you are on the fence about whether talking to someone will be helpful for you, I would encourage you to give it a shot. You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Speaking to someone about personal issues in a face-to-face environment can be upsetting for some. If that’s the case you can always give Nightline a call on 0141 334 9561. Although not a counselling service, Nightline is a confidential listening service for people who feel they need to talk to someone. The service is available from 7pm-7am every night during term time.
If you’re not quite ready to speak with someone directly, there are lots of self help resources available from the UofG library and on the Psychological and Counselling Services website which has a list of books, podcasts, e-counselling tools and online courses. The e-counselling resources are particularly helpful, with a list of websites run by external organisations such as the NHS:
MoodJuice is an NHS Scotland initiative providing an online, interactive resource which covers almost everything you can think of: from problems with sleeping to feelings of isolation. Once you enter the website you are prompted to click through a series of options, each highlighting a set of related issues, until you find an area you feel that you need help in. You can either download the self help guides or follow links to additional resources and guides.
MoodGYM is a similar service, run by the Australian National University, aimed specifically at depression. MoodGYM aims to provide you with the ‘cognitive behaviour therapy skills’ for coping with, and preventing, depression.
For more free online courses you should check out Living Life to the Full. Their resources cover low mood, stress, anxiety and the common problems that can arise from these.
In preparation for this post I contacted the UofG Counselling and Psychological Services for some advice. The feedback I received was that a lot of people who go through their service find the above self help resources extremely useful and, since becoming aware of them, I’ve actually downloaded several of the MoodJuice resources myself.
They also expressed that the most common issue PGR students face is isolation. In my next post I’ll talk about some of the things you can do to for mental maintenance, as well as how you can help stop isolation from taking hold. Keep an eye out for it this Friday and, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with an important quote from the service:
‘You may find that the body of students as a whole has a mix of successful strategies [worth sharing with each other]’.
With that in mind: let us know how you cope with mental health, discuss any issues you have experienced, or simply share some resources in the comments below and over on Twitter. In the spirit of being open and honest about mental health, you’ll also find me using the #LetsTalk hashtag to join in this important conversation.