- in general, not just in Universities.
With many recognised illnesses, there is one group that is still tough for people to talk about; mental illness. Like any illness, it can impede your progress, but quite often it can remain unnoticed and undiagnosed, making it even more difficult. In fact, I’m often surprised about how many people are affected by it.
Well, I believe that the first and most important thing is to be more open about mental health; this will mean that people are more able to recognise that they are ill, to know that they are not alone in feeling this way. Because there is this stigma around mental illnesses, people may be scared to ask for help, and this could lead to devastating results. By being more open, I would like to think that something can be done before it’s too late, but also that people struggling are more willing to seek help. I also think that by being more open, people who are not suffering from mental illnesses would feel more confident in how to help someone else who is – because, to be totally honest, while I would do my best in that circumstance, I’m not sure if that would be helpful or not to the other person.
One thing I’ve learned about research is that it’s competitive, can be isolating and there are constant changes (the up-and-down nature of research), and this can make it really difficult to make friends. This is made worse by the fact that PhD projects start throughout the year. It’s not surprising to find yourself feeling down when your experiments are not working, and you feel totally on your own. It is usual to feel upset that someone had published something similar to what you are working on, if that does happen. Other things happen too, and if you are struggling, then please do not suffer on your own; there are services, from the University wellbeing service, your supervisor and colleagues, the Ombudsman, your GP. Talk to your friends about what you are going through – maybe they’re going through something similar – and about what would help you. Different things work for different people – I found talking to a psychologist helpful after being diagnosed with a physical illness, but you may find that medication is more helpful.
The thing to remember is, that mental illness can happen to anyone, like physical illness. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, and keep looking until you find something that works for you. Don’t beat yourself up about it – being ill has nothing to do with “just having the blues”, etc. Find people who are willing to listen, and be prepared to listen; by being open, I hope that less people are suffering with a mental illness on their own, and that people feel confident in how to help others who are struggling with a mental illness. Let's stop stigmatising mental illness.