World Mental Health Day
Today is World Mental Health Day. Now more than ever, it is critical we look after our own mental health and look out for each other.
I have struggled with my mental health, so when I talk about mental health it is personal. I know what it is like to have the awareness of all these issues on a rational level, but thinking they won't affect me. I can stand up and talk about stigma, but still resist talking about myself because of shame.
In the academic world, we know that mental health issues are endemic. Short-term contracts, high-pressure environments, deadlines, harassment, bullying, lack of proper management, imposter syndrome (etc.) all contribute to toxic work environments. Thankfully there are more and more people standing up and trying to change this. Most importantly more people are being open about their own stories. I would suggest all academics, postdocs and PhD students follow Dr Zoë Ayres on Twitter (@ZJAyres). She produces wonderful resources talking about many of these issues better than I can – anyone who walks past my office knows I am a fan!
I know I am not alone, but also that much more needs to be done to make our profession a healthier place. Some initiatives undoubtedly help – such as having Mental Health First Aiders in workplaces (I am one), wellbeing and mental health services for students – but getting to the root of the systemic issues is much more difficult. Senior leadership must invest more resources (and money!) to re-imagine what a healthy academic work environment will look like. Too often junior staff are asked to try to solve these difficult issues with nothing more than a few warm words from above, while also being the ones most at risk.
Today there will be many posts from universities, businesses, charities and individuals all conveying this exact message. But the more we each speak out, step by step, hopefully, things will be easier and better for others. Look after yourself, look out for colleagues, and look out for your students.
For staff at Imperial College London, you can speak confidentially to a Mental Health First Aider or Confidential Care (firstname.lastname@example.org, 0800 085 4764). Confidential Care can offer support and guidance on a wide range of issues and can arrange for up to 6 sessions of free counselling.
For students, dedicated Student Wellbeing Advisors are available in most departments, and the Student Counselling and Mental Health Advice Service can arrange 1 to 1 or group support sessions. In addition to self-referral, you can ask any staff member to refer you to the service including Mental Health First Aiders, Senior Tutors, Personal Tutors, or anyone else you feel comfortable speaking to. London Nightline is available every night during term to speak to confidentially.