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05/20/2019

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anonymous

Thanks for writing this

Ian

I would also like to commend you for writing this. I suffered from depression during a bad stage in my career. I didn't know it was depression at the time, since I had never experienced it before, but if I had looked at the symptoms you list here, I probably would have gotten help sooner.

Anonymous

I too want to thank you for writing this. I have suffered from mental illnesses throughout my career but have been too afraid to disclose it out of fear of possible negative repercussions. I appreciate your courage and hope more people speak out. Maybe I will if I can muster up the courage. I think the extreme stress and isolation of academia may have caused or at least contributed my illnesses, and that having to keep it all inside as a secret may only increase the stress and isolation, contributing to a downward mental spiral. I also think that the more of a secret we keep it the less of an incentive the profession has to take active steps to improve things. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for speaking out and sharing your story.

Helen

Thank you Trevor, a lot of that rang true for me. I suffered a major depressive episode as a postdoc, not helped by being in a misogynistic department. I experienced suicidal ideation (just enough to pull me away was the idea of my kid and my spouse and my sense of responsibility to them), basically losing all joy in life, energy, somehow I still found the time to write stuff (I mechanistically put time aside every day). It did improve a lot not just when I got (finally after 5 years on the market) a tenure track job, but also before when I made the decision to try to gain some control over my life and do things I found meaningful. But it was very difficult. Also, frequent relocations make one without support network and isolated, a further recipe for mental illness.

Postdoc

I know depression all to well. Since high school I’ve suffered from dysthymia. But the philosophy job market caused me to become quasi suicidal. I would walk across roads without looking carefully, because I kind of wanted to get hit— I was thinking a hospital stay would be a nice break. I managed to get some help and got better. But I still struggle with dysthymia. Although the philosophy job market made me more miserable than I had ever been, I think my issues are connected with childhood trauma and a narcissistic father. So I can’t blame all my problems on philosophy.

Trevor Hedberg

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. It's sad that this is such a common experience, but it reiterates the need to speak up about the matter and thinking about the ways we can create a supportive environment for those in need.

An Anxious Philosopher

Thank you for sharing.

Around when I was preparing for my comprehensive exam in graduate school I suffered a major anxiety attack that, in hindsight, had slowly been building for weeks, if not months. I spent a few days, maybe a week, continually doing shots to keep the anxiety down. I didn't leave the apartment. By the end the alcohol wasn't having an affect and I finally realized I needed help. Until that point the thought that I might need help was overshadowed by the thought that very bad things were imminent and that I just needed to hide. So, I took myself to a hospital. I was almost involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care, but I was instead sent home after a night of observation with a prescription for a benzodiazepine. I also started therapy. Like Trevor, I think it took around 3 months for things to stabilize. I still struggled to leave the apartment during that time. I wasn't teaching and was just preparing for comprehensive exams, so few people noticed. It was probably another year until things were somewhat normal again. I was in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist for maybe two or three years? I would have to check the dates. That was all 7 years ago now, and while I'm stable on a day-to-day basis, I still have more mild, but still serious, anxiety episodes once or twice or a year, and many of my days are still perfused with mild anxiety. As one can imagine, this all has not been conducive to a career in philosophy. But I'm still trying. Much of my problems are probably just me, and my main fears have nothing to do with philosophy, but philosophy provides all sorts of stressors and triggers that make things bad. And, of course, sometimes I worry about philosophy and ever finding a job.

Elizabeth Scarbrough

Thank you for writing this. If I had more courage I would share my own mental health struggles on this platform. For now I’ll echo that sleep is sacred and I will add that there is no shame in taking antidepressants in conjunction with talk therapy.

Marina

I think that depression related to the academy (PhD students, job seekers) could be at least to some extent "treated" with a more friendly and supportive academic environment. But unfortunately, this is not the case.
Some students struggle with the PhD dissertation alone, because they do not have a good supervisor who can guide them in a systematic way, give them feedback and advice in an already very stressful period of their lives. This can certainly cause depression, especially if it entails less productivity and consequently a negative appreciation made by the supervisor or other members of the academic community. I remember once a talk I had with a professor about one of his PhD students who had explicitly said to another of his students that he was thinking about commiting suicide. I do not know if it was related with the PhD, but the Professor, who was his supervisor, told me: "it is not my business". This kind of reactions or thoughts are probably more common than we think, and besides of being inhuman (who can say those words when he knows that someone he knows has suicidal thoughts?), it should be a duty of a professor to care--at least in his role of supervisor-- about the mental health of his students.
A stressful and depressive state can come after the PhD, like in my case. After my PhD defence, the institution where I was left me completely alone and just erased me. I remember the director calling me just to ask me when I was going to liberate my desk (probably my foreign origin had something to do with this attitude)... The philosophers working in my field also forgot me and did not offer any help or support to try at least to make me feel I was part of something bigger and encourage me to continue writing and applying and participating in certain way of this philosophical community. With important financial issues, no support and, what is more, criticism for not being able to produce enough (even when I did not have an academic job, and sometimes did not have a job at all), it was easy for me to fall into depression. In my case, I know that my mild depression was not caused by internal factors, such a luck of meaning in life, but by the toxic and unsupportive academic and intellectual environment that surrounded me. I know that if this environment had been different, I would not have suffered the way I did, even without a job in academia.
In conclusion, I think that in many cases stress and depression in academia has not their origin in the individual who suffers these conditions, but in the way the environment affects the individual. So the suggestions Marcus is offering are nice and can be helpful, but more helpful would be to rethink these relations between institutions, professors and (ex) PhD students. More institutional strategies should be taken to help PhD students (especially outside the US: in my institution in Europe there was nothing to help PhD students with job search), and advice and suggestions should be given to professors, who by the way should be more controlled for bullying, unrespectful behavior, or absence of supervision. I am sure these measures could be very helpful to avoid many cases of depression related to academia.

Paul

I also just want to say thank you for writing this Trevor. Its such an important and difficult topic and I think that one of the best things we can do is raise awareness by sharing our stories.

Suzanne Irwin

This post is amazing - my daughter is going through ALL of this currently and this post helps me understand what is happening, as best as I can. I still don't know how to help her from my end, but I so appreciate you sharing this with those of us who see this depression in our adult children. I have never felt more powerless as a mother and my heart hurts with hers.

Thank you for informing us and making us aware.

Trevor Hedberg

Thanks for your note, Suzanne. I hope your daughter is able to pull out of the spell in the same way that I did, but it takes time. Tough to climb out of that pit once you've fallen down so far.

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