I have been in the lab for more than a year and my mental health has been damaged seriously due to the harassment of my PI, and I believe my PI has breached my confidentiality by sharing information I told in confidence with other group members and the administration.

I have thought about going elsewhere to continue my PhD. However, I realized my academic progress has been delayed due to the mental health problem and I would need time to recover. I am afraid of jumping into another lab. Also, I do not find any other professors in my department whose research interests me, perhaps because my mind is currently occupied with all the negative experience with my PI and that clouds my thinking?

I want to change university and start totally fresh but obviously I would not get a good LOR from my PI.

I want a career in academia but I really need sometimes to recover. How should I proceed?

(Edit: adding update posted as answer) Thank you very much for all the suggestions. I avoid talking all the problems with my family since they are not in academia and I do not want them to worry about me. Writing all my thoughts here helps me to release everything I've tried to keep inside myself. I think my mental health seems to not as serious as I thought because after reading all the comment, I feel more positively now.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Nicole Hamilton, padawan, Buzz, Coder, Enthusiastic Engineer Dec 8 '17 at 9:21

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  • can you change department? @superStar? DO YOU have that kind of option – SSimon Dec 7 '17 at 16:46
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    of course I understand that, but please dont discredit your option, go and talk to professors from that departments! I did it and I found out better funding possiblities. I went from biomedical to technology department, and it is ok. give it a try. you will love it I think since they understand you come from other field – SSimon Dec 7 '17 at 16:56
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    I think my mental health seems to not as serious as I thoughtTalk to a mental-health professional anyway. Seriously. – JeffE Dec 7 '17 at 18:44
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    my mental health has been damaged seriously due to the harassment of my PIDon't walk. Run.I want to change university and start totally freshGood. Do that. – JeffE Dec 7 '17 at 18:46
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    To back up the comment by @JeffE, mental health issues are sneaky, and may come crashing down on you in full force even after weeks, or even months, of feeling perfectly fine. Don't make the mistake of telling yourself that everything is fine after reading sympathetic comments on the Internet - it isn't! – valderman Dec 7 '17 at 21:10

If your mental health is suffering, then the first thing you need is to seek professional counseling for that.

Once you feel you are in a space where you can make decisions clearly, you need to get out of your current situation in the least harmful manner possible—whatever you perceive that to be. If it means leaving with a master's, great. If you have to walk away, then you need to do that instead. No outcome is worth risking your long-term mental health.

Moreover, the fact that your advisor aired the dirty laundry in public is a serious violation of trust, and a clear sign that you can't really repair this relationship. You may be able to make something happen with the help of the human resources department or university ombudsman (or similar resources).

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    I did seek the help of professional counseling one time. I visited my family during winter break and visit my friends during summer. All that helped actually, I felt more energetic. But whenever I am back at work, all my energy is quickly lost. – user83706 Dec 7 '17 at 17:05
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    I know a number of PhDs that required regular counselling, once a week, during their time as "students". They found this useful not just for addressing their mental health issues but also understanding how to interact with the people causing problems. Regular mental health support can help, looking at those I've known, as someone who will continue but also as someone who wants to leave whilst doing as little damage as possible. It is hard taking action rationally whilst there are mental health issues. – Dr. Thomas C. King Dec 7 '17 at 17:09
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    @superStar A single counseling session is usually not nearly enough. Regular counseling for several months, if not years, is not uncommon when it comes to addressing mental health issues. That getting back to work causes your energy to disappear, even though you felt well enough during the summer, is cause for major concern - I've seen this happen multiple times, and it's generally been an excellent predictor for imminent complete burnout. – valderman Dec 7 '17 at 21:07
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    @Byte11: There is the problem of too many academics believing in what I call the "academic Golden Rule": "do unto others as you had done unto you," not realizing there's a problem with it. – aeismail Dec 8 '17 at 0:58
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    I would like to add here, that not only is no job/career worth risking your mental health, but if whatever you are doing eats away your energy and sanity, then leave that place. As fast as possible! A PI should make you feel welcome and encourage you, not make you feel down. The relationship between a PhD student and his/her adviser is very important for a successful PhD. If it does not work, there is no shame in looking for a different position. And do not worry about what a new, prospective adviser would think. Students switching advisers/positions due to interpersonal problems is common. – Attila Kinali Dec 8 '17 at 9:10