We all have got our share of problems. The nature of these problems differs from one person to another; what may be a major cause of concern to you may not be such to others, yet the problem is a problem. When we fail to address these problems, we often end up harming ourselves in many ways. One of the areas to receive the greatest impact from all of this is mental health. Only in the 21st century did we begin talking about it as actively as we do – even academia has become vocal about increasing pressure, unregulated stress, and lack of mental health support for its stakeholders.
Academia is often misunderstood to be an easy way out. People pit it against, say, the corporate world and claim that there is hardly anything pressurizing about it. Yet, we fail to see that every kind of professional world has its own way of operability, and one cannot draw comparisons because they are not the same thing. Mental health is as great an issue in academia as in any other world, but unfortunately, we do not talk about it as often as we should.
Mental health and academia can no longer be dissociated. Where there are colonies of humans working in tandem, there are issues of mental health. The large, ubiquitous, highly competitive character of academia just makes it a potent ground for serious mental health issues, and we must talk about them. To summarize my points, I have shortlisted reasons why we must talk about this subject matter more often.
Academia is a world in itself; from teachers to researchers, various responsibilities are undertaken. You end up investing your entire life into studying, researching, and writing – and unless you want to stunt your professional growth, there is no end to the cycle. Doctoral students and postgraduate students generally bear the brunt of intense academic pressure, which comes in many forms, such as strict deadlines, researching hundreds of articles, writing good papers, and spending time in the lab. The 2019 Nature survey found that at least 27% of the PhD students it covered spent at least 41 hours a week. That is a lot and can potentially lead to exhaustion. Undoubtedly, there is too much pressure to perform well in academia.
Too much competition
There is always competition wherever you go. However, issues start emerging when it becomes merciless. Peer pressure to perform well consumes self-confidence, produces anxiety, and forces you to forget your basic needs, such as dietary necessities. Everything is highly competitive from publishing good quality research papers in well-established journals to finding a job in academia. Not everyone is well-equipped to handle the ruthless nature of contemporary competition. This is only aggravated by the fact that competition is no longer restricted to limited geography; in this global order, you compete with a huge number of people – and this can damage your mental equilibrium if you don’t take care of yourself.
One problem with academia is, even in the 21st century, that it continues to stick to conventional methods. Textbook learning has been and still is popular, and analytical education is very exceptional. Students are encouraged to memorize and regurgitate information; this is much different from actually understanding the information that is being fed to them. In fact, teachers are often found reproducing word-to-word whatever has been written down in books and presenting it to the students. Such an approach impairs the learning abilities of students and teachers, and this reflects in their overall performance. Failing performance impacts mental health and hence, the problem.
Many people still believe that there is no such thing called mental illness. Academia, surprisingly, is often reluctant to establish support groups or encourage changes in pedagogy, among many others, to create a stimulating environment. This denial has resulted in poor support groups and counselling mechanisms in institutions across the globe. For many institutions, for example, mental health is merely a matter of bulky curriculum and the insufficient number of vacations; there is so much more to address yet no one is taking it seriously.
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