Mental health of a PhD student

I was always interested in Science as a kid and later in my adolescence, dreamt of becoming a scientist. I took the traditional route of studying an undergrad than a postgrad and then starting a PhD. I was very enthusiastic when I started my PhD. But after some time I realised how hard it is going to be, the failed experiments, the expectations to succeed, the long hours in the lab and the uncertain career path all started to take a toll on my mental health. I became very negative and sometimes very rude to the people around me.

Everyone talks about the reputation of scientists, their perks and privileges but no one talks about the stress one has to go through to achieve that. It is important to understand the difference between hard work to achieve something and going through a trauma to achieve something. PhD for a lot of researchers is no less than a trauma. The reasons mentioned above are gruelling enough to break any student, on top of that students also have to go through the societal pressure of starting a family and to earn enough. Recently in India the PhD students have to go on strike for the hike in their research fellowship too. The limited funds also stall the pace of the research which is another frustrating factor that is not taken into consideration at all.

A recent study that looked at over 3,500 PhD students in Belgium found that one in two PhD students experienced psychological distress during their PhD. More than 30% were at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, especially depression. The findings are published in Research Policy of Elsevier.  

The scientific community must take the problem of mental stress in PhD students very seriously. A healthier lab culture must be fostered. Special focus should be given to work-life balance. Communication between PhD students and advisors should increase; a simple talk can easily take away a lot of pressure faced by a PhD student. Administrators and PhD supervisors should be trained to identify the signs of mental stress in their students; they should be equipped with enough information to send their students towards the right help. The future scientists should be healthy and happy then stressed and sad.   

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