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One thing I've been really curious about recently is why there is a very high tendency for academics to suffer from mental health problems (e.g. anxiety and depression). There are a bunch of factors behind this:

  • Very long hours
  • Relatively low pay
  • Constant pressure to chase up funding and publish papers
  • Continuous flow of work resulting in feeling little personal reward
  • Dealing with abrasive personalities (such as some specific professors, supervisors and so forth)
  • Perfectionism, resulting in feeling that nothing is truly good enough
  • Lack of open-mindedness towards admitting difficulties or not understanding something
  • A feel that "if you can't take the heat, then you shouldn't be here"
  • Lack of external support at some institutions.

This is a very striking read, which highlights that many mental health issues in academia are accepted as the norm or simply ignored, whereas in any other job these would be picked up on and support would be offered.

Also, as someone who as experienced similar difficulties previously in my studies (such as in school and during my undergraduate degree) and had plenty of external support offered to me, it almost seems as though everything I learnt about having a healthy life balance and looking after myself is something that goes out of the window at research level.

I'm sure maybe there are some more that I haven't mentioned, but what would you say is probably biggest influence on people feeling depressed (and some even having dark thoughts) in university departments?

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    Don't mistake correlation with causation. Academia has aspects that are more amenable to people with depression/anxiety than industry -- in particular, being able to schedule your own time. – RoboKaren May 25 '15 at 15:05
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    Is the correlation even established? The linked article mentions self reported levels of stress are increasing in Academia over time - but that is a few steps removed from saying that there are more mental health problems in academia (compared to an anonymous referent). – Andy W May 25 '15 at 15:43
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    Where is the evidence of a "very high tendency for academics to suffer from mental health problems" relative to nonacademics? Also you've got a pretty rosy view of life outside academia if you think that "in any other job these would be picked up on and support would be offered" – Matthew Towers May 25 '15 at 15:47
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    "College Professor" ranked #19 in the "Canada's Best Jobs" listing by "Canadian Business" canadianbusiness.com/lists-and-rankings/best-jobs/… – GEdgar May 25 '15 at 15:58
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    You may find this meta discussion interesting: Is the seemingly high prevalence of clinical depression cases in A.SE askers normal? – Mad Jack May 25 '15 at 16:04
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I think that part of the issue of why it seems there are so many people with mental-health issues is systematic. I think that academic environments are beginning to place much more emphasis on the mental well-being of their community members (students, faculty, and staff), so diagnoses of mental-health issues have increased compared to the past. Moreover, because universities tend to be more "accepting" of issues than most other environments, it's easier for people to mention such issues. Also, because of the nature of the people in academic environments, they're much more likely to recognize that they're experiencing mental health issues, rather than "passing the buck" or pinning the blame on someone or something else.

One other question that you haven't raised is if there's a greater correlation between increased academic training and propensity to experience mental-health issues; I'm not sure about the answer to that, and whether that skews the stats.

But in general, I think that what you're seeing is more likely something closer to the actual level of mental health problems in the general society in academic environments, and an underreporting of it outside of academia (where it is still heavily stigmatized).

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