#Dispatches From the Frontlines series crowdsources questions to get a broad indication of how our readers are coping with various challenges. The question this week: How’s your mental health? Have you found anything that helps? Is it impacting your work/career planning? Trigger warning: mention of suicide. This is hard reading.
New question: How has your thinking about your career changed over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year? Respond here.
My mental health started rapidly declining since I began my PhD program in Aerospace Engineering. The harsh, competitive and abusive culture in my research lab left me with no self esteem, massive depressive disorder and debilitating anxiety. I was so close to finishing last year, but needed to take off time to recover and survive. It’s been a year with antidepressants and therapy and now I am trying to re-enter my program. Unfortunately, I have some PTSD type symptoms when exposed to my doctorate work so I am trying hard to work through that. (Grad student, STEM)
Was kind of ok, but then husband’s negative mood resulted in me feeling close to breaking down. An announcement of an additional lockdown with no end in sight seems to much. How can I continue for another whole year?? Cooking and eating helps. (Asst prof STEM)
Things that have helped my insomnia: weaning off coffee to only 1 cup of decaf; getting off the computer by 8 pm, keeping regular going to bed/getting up hours and doing this breathing exercise before falling asleep: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/ This works many days, so I can feel almost human until noon or so. (NTT Hum)
My mental health is poor, and I feel my anxiety, and health anxiety, rolling around and making me feel more on edge and burnt-out. It’s tough to wake up, help students with papers, when a pandemic is raging and you’re on edge 24/7. (Tutor, Hum)
My mental health is OK. Routines and rituals are my saving grace. Fortunately, as a clinical psychologist there has been little change in my workload or finances. Unfortunately, I am on the frontlines of an impending mental health disaster every day, and all my clients are getting worse. I’ve taken to trying to predict which of them is most likely to commit suicide this winter, so that I can intervene or at least monitor earlier. (Non-ac PHD SS)
Struggling mentally. Ran for office and lost. Feel there is no hope for rational thinking in over half adults in the country. Husband lost his 100k+ job the day after the election. Hits just keep coming. Can focus only in short bursts to write, finish work. ZOOM friend sessions help. No one wants to leave and they last for hours. Thinking of leaving the US (Grad student, SS)
My mental health and has suffered significantly under COVID. From May through mid-September, I worked 15 hour days moving my cadaver lab course online and managing asynchronous remote learners in 3 time zones while also experiencing administrative bullying, a credible threat of violence from a disturbed student, and repeated looting in my urban neighborhood. At the end of the summer term, I suffered a breakdown, and I continue to have PTSD-like symptoms triggered by anything related to the summer course. I have leaned heavily on my pre-COVID mental health provider and husband for support. Spending time in nature off the grid and regular exercise have also helped. Resuming research, planning my retirement from teaching, and searching for alt-ac employment have restored a limited sense of control over my professional life and allowed me to focus on a post-COVID future. (Tenured, STEM)
I am feeling lonely in society , indian society I guess don’t accept scientific temperament (Professional Field)
My mental health has not been great. My depression has been coming back, some days leaving me incapable of much and others making it difficult to focus and motivate. I’ve also been a lot more anxious than in the past. To help, I’ve tried to connect with others when I can. I’ve had a weekly zoom call with family on the other coast, taken masked/distanced walks with friends, and tried to focus my social media use on following the mundane and uplifting happenings of loved ones, get and share recipes and knitting tips, while also making room for activism. Early on in the pandemic I took an 8-week mindfulness course geared towards preventing depression relapse and continue to listen to guided mindfulness meditations. There are lots of short ones on YouTube – for example, the Daily Calm, UCLA MARC, Jon Kabat-Zinn, amd Alli Simon all have ~10min meditations I play at a weekly session for coworkers. Taking art and storytelling classes over zoom from my local center for adult ed. Doing jigsaw puzzles while watching soothing TV keeps my brain fully occupied and lets me turn off worries for a while. Cooking, knitting, other no-pressure creative activities. For example, I get random numbers and colors from Google and use those as drawing or painting prompts (6 green lines, 10 yellow circles, etc.). Listening to the podcast Phoebe Reads a Mystery as I fall asleep. Oh, and taking my medication every day as prescribed.
Everything is totally fucked and I have some security in my job and finances. I don’t think anything is helping. (Tenured, SS)
Mental health improving. Obviously this year has been very stressful for all. What has helped me is to stop trying to fix the stress and overwork. And ask my head of Department to cut literally everything that isn’t essential. Turns out that only my teaching is aboslutely essential. So now I teach my classes and take time off at weekends and evenings (and sometimes even the afternoon!) to spend with my family (or therapist). (Tenured prof, Hum)
Terrible. I want to sleep all the time. I’m worried, tired, fed up, and don’t see any light at the end. I don’t prepare lectures, I just “present” myself on the screen, say whatever I remember, and get them to talk. What helps me is netflix, other cinema sites, and music (when everyone goes to sleep). (Tenured Arts/Music/Theater)
Mental health chronically bad, made worse by covid stress (workload, trying to be there for students in crisis, having to teach through 2 covid deaths in the family ..). The only thing that grounds me is thinking about leaving academia, in particular, not having to teach any more. The burnout is so deep. (Tenured, Hum)
I consider myself a strong individual, very independent and able to handle stressful or demanding situations with grace, calm, and focus. However I am finally truly feeling the strain of working from home since March. I MISS my colleagues and the constant daily social interactions of my pre-COVID routine. I miss sitting at bars with friends after work. I’ve really been feeling sad and lonely. So what has been my solution?! More phone calls, FaceTimes, and online games or group party apps with friends and coworkers, primarily. Honestly just talking to loved ones, sharing a quick vent or a chuckle, hearing a life update and getting to celebrate or trouble shooting a conflict together, just those some and brief moments of connection and communication make a massive difference in my mood and my day. I’ve also started doing yoga every morning instead of diving into the news over coffee. There’s plenty of crappy news out there, and typically NPR is the first thing I hear in the morning but that was stressing me out first thing so I traded the news for meditation and yoga, and again, what an incredible difference in my mood! Between the phone calls and yoga this is maybe an hour or two in my day, so a really simple switch that made a big impact for feeling more optimistic and happy during social distancing. (Admin, Student Dev)
My mental health is rapidly deteriorating, despite starting anti-depressants for the first time in my life this summer (previous rounds of depression had been well managed with therapy and other supports, not enough now). I am well supported but was burnt out at the start of 2020 (after three hard years of personal health related trauma in my family), and I am also very much overworked, and constantly torn between the the guilt of carework and paid work – if doing one, I feel guilty about the other. I have tried all my usual coping mechanisms but nothing is working. Despite being in a relatively “comfortable” position, I feel about two steps away from a total breakdown. (Grad student, SS)
I am tired. But I fell I cannot stop (Asst prof, STEM)
My mental health is rough, but I’m on medications and have a therapist. Grad school is miserable as is, but during this time all my science is delayed, nothing is working, and I feel like I’ll never graduate. Academia sucks. I want to graduate and go into industry ASAP. (Grad student, STEM)
I have done two partial hospitalization programs and started an intensive outpatient program. I found that group therapy didn’t work for me because of my triggers. So, I’m now working with a therapist. I have been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds for more than 10 years, but elements of PTSD have come on really strong during this lock down. (Grad student, SS)
I’m tired and resentful. I don’t have enough time to reflect and process. I’m feeling irritable and impatient, and it is hard for me to focus on self-awareness. (Asst prof, STEM)
My mental health is in a state of lowered resilience. I am still ok, and not depressed or more anxious than normal, but I am unable to roll with small errors or urgent stressors. I feel like I am behind at all times, and that family is crowding into work space (but I like my family more, so it feels jarring to resent them for preventing me from staying on top of my completely unreasonable workload). I’m angry a lot, and I’m not normally an angry person. What helps is staying physically active, which is quite difficult right now. What helps is getting enough sleep. I’m trying to lower my average daily screen time on my cell phone each week – I like numbers as a target. (Asst prof, STEM)