Mind Over Body: Staying Mentally Healthy in the Academy

“So, how’s your dissertation coming along?” “I really don’t want to talk about it right now.”

There’s an old saying that college is a lot like watching ducks in the pond: on the surface, everyone seems to be doing just fine, but if you look underwater, you’ll see that everybody’s kicking like crazy just to stay afloat.

Many students feel like they exist on the fine line between stability and chaos, with their mental state as the site of mounting tension. More often than not, a few students will actually break and succumb to a multitude of disorders, and the rate of this occurring increases dramatically in graduate school and beyond.

Unfortunately, not enough studies on this problem have been conducted. According to an article published by the American Psychology Association (APA), at least 17% of students reported having a serious mental disorder at the University of California, Irvine, with 30% reporting having a mental health concern that affected their well-being or academic performance. Another survey by the APA found 87% of psychology students at the University of California, Berkeley experienced anxiety, 68% reported symptoms of depression, and even 19% have thoughts of suicide.

A powerful demographic for a very serious problem.

This phenomena has potentially destructive consequences for the potential success of a college student’s career. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 64% of students diagnosed with a mental health condition take extended leaves of absence of drop out entirely. If this problem persists, more and more students will miss out on  opportunities to complete the degrees necessary to fulfill their potential.

What can be done to ameliorate this disturbing trend? A number of suggestions from several authors:

  • Seek help as soon as you can – This especially goes for males, who make up only 40% of all counseling services. There’s no shame in preserving your mental health, especially if it prevents a far more grave circumstance.
  • Attend support groups – Do this whenever possible, as they serve as a reminder that you’re not alone in your experiences.
  • Communicate with your family – Only 7% of parents report that their students experience mental health issues. Families should not be in the dark if you’re going through something serious, and often they become your unwavering basis of support.
  • Educate yourself (with a professional) – If you think you might have an issue, don’t try to self-diagnose online. Talk to a counselor or a doctor about your possible condition.
  • Exercise regularlyFor a many number of reasons, exercise has been widely viewed as a terrific solution to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. For “heavy thinkers” such as scholars, exercise provides a moment to focus your mind on other things, build confidence, and, of course, improve your physical health in the process.

We at Scholar Hero aren’t necessarily doctors or healers ourselves, but we hope to contribute to the overall project of improving mental wellness by making scholarly activities much more manageable. Many students complain about the stress of grant application, job seeking, paper writing, and other academic activities that don’t have to induce so much misery. For graduate students and scholars, the stress and work never seems to end.

Being a scholar shouldn’t be about “publish or perish” or something to that effect. Academia should be about the productive exchange and elaboration of knowledge, and we hope to provide the tools that will keep it that way.