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Laurence McCullough

The poster should go to campus mental health immediately. They will have qualified professionals who can help. There is a general lesson here: If I were still active faculty or (eons ago) a fellow student and a student told me this story I would ask for permission to contact campus mental health or offer to walk the student there. I taught professional ethics in medicine at DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston for many years, where I learned that PTSD is a serious but manageable mental disorder, the neglect of which has bad outcomes.


No job/career is worth sacrificing your mental health for, but unfortunately it is all too common in academia. I know it's tempting to view a career in philosophy as a calling, something worth giving your all to and forgoing other important parts of life for. But it's not. Your well-being and happiness comes first. And if seeking treatment and/or taking a leave from academia is necessary, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Not only is it best for your health, but I suspect your work will be more productive and better if you are in a better place while undertaking it.

Michelle Panchuk

I was also diagnosed with PTSD while ABD in graduate school, and also came to realized that I had been using graduate studies as a mechanism of dissociation. Everyone’s situation, symptoms, and needs are different, so I would recommend working with a therapist to decide if you need to take a leave of absence to focus on recovery or whether your treatment can take place parallel to your graduate work. They will also be able to help you develop strategies for coping with symptoms that arise in every day life.

Personally, I found a combination of EMDR (Eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing) and talk therapy with a licensed therapist quite helpful, particularly with dealing with the intrusive memories, and was able to do it while continuing my graduate work. But a significant reason why that was possible was that I had a strong and supportive community of friends who knew what I was going through, were supportive and non-judgmental about my mental health struggles, but who would also encourage me to rest, to take care of myself, and to do embodied things rather than trying to pretend that I was a brain in a vat writing a dissertation. I wouldn’t say that I have “recovered” in the 6 years since then (I don’t think “recovery" is always a helpful category when thinking about the effects of trauma), but I am usually able to manage my symptoms well enough to feel like I can thrive in my current position (assistant prof).

Bill Vanderburgh

I think this is a question for your doctor. But the first thing that occurs to me is that there is a degree of flexibility in grad school (especially ABD) that you won't find in a 9-5 job, for example, which could be helpful if you need a way to financially support yourself during this period (assuming you have a fellowship or something like that). And the free/cheap mental health resources on campus are worth something, too. As for finishing, give yourself relatively-easily achievable daily goals, like writing a page per day. Once you are done with the page, get up and do other things. A few months later, you'll have a draft.


I would second the recommendation to talk the decision over with someone who knows your situation, but maybe that is hard right now since (as you mentioned) the pandemic has been so isolating. I also think it is important to consider what impacts the change in routine will have on you if you do take a leave, and to consider how much space your program allows for shifting your time and energy towards recovery while remaining enrolled.

I am also struggling to address a (different) mental health condition right now but I am further along in my career. I know that I personally had much more flexibility in graduate school than I do now to adjust my level of investment in academic duties without changing my official status. Full-time teaching duties are pretty relentless, especially in the early years when you are still figuring everything out. Institutions also vary dramatically in their supportiveness of employee mental health needs, though it is important to know that at least in the US there are family and medical leave laws that encompass mental health conditions.

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