Thursday, 31 January 2013

SSRI: a few weeks in

It's been a bit over 3 weeks now. I got started on SSRIs on January 7, and had an immediate and forceful placebo help.

Just enough time has passed that now I can start collect some first impressions.
First off, side effects. I have them. Common ones? In spades.

  • My joints are aching. Usually, it's been my elbow joints, but today I have a shoulder ache that annoys me and throws me off my productivity significantly.
  • I've had a touch of my manic side. Just one, very early on, and nowhere near where I would ask for help for it — just enough to remind me it exists.
  • I have some slight eczema. Just enough to redden the skin and make me wonder why. Doesn't itch, just discolors.
  • I am exhausted in the evenings. Utterly and completely. Leaning on doors and walls, just waiting for it to be late enough that we can go to bed.
  • Muscular tension — oh boy! I have chattering teeth, grinding teeth, bouncy knees, and tense up pretty much all over.
  • Several different instances of autonomous systems going weird on me. I won't talk about bodily fluids here, but have gained a bit of awareness over the past few weeks.
On the other hand, there are the actual effects of taking the pills.
  • Before I started, I had daily crying jags. After I started, not once.
  • Before I started, I had daily episodes where I was terrified of things. In these three weeks, twice.
  • Before I started, my bad moods would be these chasms swallowing me up, leaving me powerless, anxious, afraid and inconsolable. After I started, it's much more of a gray dull sadness. Still not good necessarily, but far more livable and endurable than the explosive mood swings I had earlier.
Of course, life. During these three weeks I have submitted a major paper to a high-prestige conference. The last weeks running up to that submission, I pushed myself hard. As a result, I am still reeling from the sudden relief of the stress; I have yet to get back to marching speed with any of my regular activities. And it is hard to see what parts of my sadness, inactivity, and lack of impetus comes from my illness, and what parts simply come from my body trying to recuperate after the paper crunch.

But for today: my shoulder joint hurts.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Vignette: Alone in a crowd

Valerie Aurora writes on suicides, and on the torrent of well-meaning advice that comes in its wake.

Read the blog post. She writes eloquently and with personal insight on how much of the advice that shows up — “Remember all those who love you”, or “Just TALK to someone” — can be counter-productive, even exacerbating a bad situation for some depression sufferers.

She also writes concretely on things that do help:

  • Reducing the stigma of mental illnesses — this, by the way, is the main reason I write in this blog, the main reason I speak out as an academic with a mental illness. If we are invisible, how will anyone else realize they are not alone?
  • Share information on trained assistance.
  • Support and push for research into prevention and treatment.
There are things that Valerie describes that touch concretely on my own experiences.

Less than a week before I actually got started on my current treatment, I had a bad dream. It sounds oh so trite when I describe it now, but what I remembered from it when waking up was that my mother was disappointed in me. My brother was upset that I had not kept a promise. And my wife was disappointed in me.

So there I was. Awake. Sad. Upset. Weighed down by the accumulated disappointments. Well aware that these were things that happened in a dream, that had no concrete relationship to my family. My wife slept right next to me — but rather than reaching out, talking to her, seeking her comfort, I grew disgusted with myself. I was convinced the dream disappointment carried over to the real woman, and could not conceive of her tolerating my presence. So I sneaked out of bed. Cried for about half an hour before I could pull myself together well enough to get dressed and put on clothes. Barely managed to convince myself it was really a dream, and was not related to the real world.

Then she woke up. Overslept by well over an hour from what she expected to sleep. Her first words were
“But why did you not wake me up when you got out of bed?”
…and I just cracked.

She is my loving, supporting wife. She will drop everything to bring me back down to earth. And while I knew this even at the depth of my distress, I could not for the life of me remember the immediate implication: if only I were to talk to her, everything would have gotten better. Earlier. “Just talk to someone” does not help as advice here: I knew it. I thought of it as I was fighting with my own anguish. And it did not help me actually reach out, actually talk to anyone.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Hiding from strangers

My depression and my anxieties hide when I am out with strangers. In fact, me crashing with you around me is a token of trust and friendship, as weird as it sounds and as hard it makes your life.

I was reminded, again, of how much this is a part of my illness today. Y'see, I was lunching with my mother — who used to trigger a fair number of emotional crashes herself. I mentioned to her that I started with anti-depressants, and that they have been mostly working well for me.
“I didn't even know you were having problems again.”
That, apparently, is how far my independence has gone: my parents no longer cause my emotional crashes, they are among the people I hide my emotions from.
Instead, it is my wife who had to bear me crying inconsolably because I thought my dad might be annoyed at us coming late for the christmas party.

I wonder how wide-spread this is; the gradation of your affective problems by your context, the tendency to only ever be noticeably ill when among your very closest. It means that work takes a very small, if any, hit from my mood swings. But on the flip side, it means that my mood swings are utterly brutal on my closest and most intimate friends and family.
My wife has had to carry an incredible load through the years, and only through forming her own coping strategies have we been able to carry on even as I grow randomly sad, angry, irritated, afraid, and more often than not blame her because I cannot find anything else to blame for my mood.

As much of a hell as your depression is on you, it is hard on those who care about you.
Being unable to perceive their caring only makes a bad situation even worse.

I wish I could find a way to articulate these thoughts without fueling the guilt and anxiety some of you already feel. I do not think that I can. Try to remember that the ones you feel guilty about subjecting to your mood swings most likely care deeply about you and will help if they can only figure out how.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

“The common thread among people who commit suicide is that they are suicidal.”

Remembering Aaron by taking care of each other
And what I learned was that this view is wrong. Suicide is no more a heightened reaction to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than depression is just being extra sad. Most of us won’t kill ourselves, no matter how bad things get. The common thread among people who commit suicide is that they are suicidal.
The blog post itself discusses the perspective of protecting the depressed members of the hacker community; but there are many parallels from the hacker community to the academic community.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Not getting things done

This morning I caught myself thinking I had not got a lot of things done so far in 2013.    Brought on by starting teaching in a week, which needs some preparation of course. 

This year I've sent off the final paper of a paper that has now appeared online.   And played a significant role (not the major one but still) in submitting a big grant that would help secure the future of the research group.  

That big grant went in on Tuesday... 5 days later I'm thinking how little I've done. 

Oh and by the way I work half time (well, I'm paid half time.)  

And of course I've done quite a number of other little things too.

All of this sounds like boasting but honestly it's not.  I've had a few days of my pointer being at 0, i.e. being happy and not feeling Depressed (big D).  In those days I didn't get a lot done (really) and found that I didn't even feel guilty about it. This was a rather disconcerting feeling.  

I'm saying that if I am not getting things done well my mind likes to notice that and make me feel guilty about it.  I suspect this negative mindset is linked to Depression, of course without any evidence at all.  

So now I'm sitting in a coffee shop blogging instead of getting work done.  And yes it is Sunday morning, and it seems to me like I should be working.   

p.s. Ok there was one bit of boasting in this post. The link to my 2013 paper was boasting. More than the content of this paper, I have been feeling very proud of having published two papers in this journal 20 years apart (this is the other one).  Proud because the journal JAIR was from day one  - 20 years ago remember -not only gold standard open access but free to readers AND authors.  At the time our first paper was published access was by anonymous ftp: a few weeks later they set up a Gopher server, mentioning that this would also allow you WWW access!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Depression: Big D and little d?

One of the things that I think slowed down trying to get help for Depression (with a big D) was thinking of depression (with a little d) as a normal part of life.

As I've mentioned before, and in a different way so has a mental health professor, misery in various forms is a normal part of life.  It's also one we can't insulate ourselves from completely and it would probably be unhealthy to do so if we could.

Which leads to an odd dichotomy.  The conventional wisdom is that talking about Depression in academia is rare and is almost taboo.  But on the other hand at coffee somebody might well say "I was depressed when I got my grant rejected."  Does that mean anything?  Should we worry about this person?    In fact, when I googled for "depressed academics" before starting this blog, maybe half the links were little d.  Like the job market for postdocs being depressing.

This kind of ambiguity of common and technical meanings is hardly unusual.  But it makes some kind of conversation difficult.  Imagine a conversation with my Grant-Rejected-Friend
GRF: I was depressed when I got my grant rejected. 
Me: Ahh, I think you might be depressed. 
GRF: What are you, Eliza or something? I just told you I was depressed.  Where are the biscuits?  
Me: Sorry, I wasn't clear.  I think you might have a mental illness.
GRF: Thanks, I get a grant rejected and it's a sign I'm mentally ill.
On the other hand, sometimes academics do get mentally ill, and later they realise they should have asked for help earlier.   It could be for entirely non academic reasons, but it could well be that a rejected grant or a bad job market for postdocs pushes them to the point they need help.

I've got two more thoughts about how much academics talk about depression.

Academics talk a LOT about their jobs being stressful.  A recent (ridiculous) article stating that university teachers had the least stressful job caused a firestorm, complete with its own twitter hashtag.  It got such a huge response precisely because academics are usually eager to talk about the huge stress involved in their job.  Stress in academia in serious.  The sign of a department at breaking point is having several people off sick with stress: having just one is almost seen as normal.   It seems at least in language use - and I have no idea of the medical position - stress and stress-related illness are seen as a normal part of academic life, while Depression (big D) is something that is not talked about much.

Here's the second thought.  I think Depression (big D) is talked about in academia, but in very tight groups.  When I told a small group of friends, probably two of the three people I mentioned it to were all over me with what drugs they had taken for it, tips for what to do and what not to do.  

I'd really like to sign off with a glib ending: "So you see, this post has taken you on a journey and we've all learnt something."  But no, I had some thoughts and I've put them down here. See you.

It can be difficult to ask for help

Astrophysicist Peter Coles blogs about post-traumatic stress and asking for help.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Is this either true or helpful?

Big article on the BBC news website by a Professor of Clinical Psychology, with the headline 'Grief and anxiety are not mental illnesses'.  The crux of the article is that depression and similar problems will be overdiagnosed under new guidelines coming in soon.  He may well have a point - and he is a mental health professional and I am not!

There's one thing that I think makes this article very unhelpful though.  It doesn't matter if your depression is a diagnosable illness or not.   What matters is that you want to be helped, and if treatment can help, you should seek it.   I use treatment in the broadest possible terms, not meaning a doctor should give you some pills to take.

If you are suffering the grief of a lost one, you want to be helped.   That might be talking to a professional, it might need to be with medication if it pushes you over some edge.   It might be time as a great healer.  When my father died, there definitely came a point when my mother wanted time alone as part of the process.

Unfortunately, this article veers towards the "pull your socks up" school, unless you have one of the particular specific conditions which get the Professorial stamp of approval.   I don't think this is what he intends, but it is the impression I got.   He is quite right to say that the "diagnose-for-treatment" route is potentially harmful, but I wish he had emphasised very strongly that the right treatment without a diagnosis can be the right route for many.

It's not my main point, but there's a very odd thread running through this.  It's the "pain is good for you" vibe.  He's not disputing that people in grief suffer greatly, but he does seem to think that the pain being experienced should not be alleviated.   As if a doctor said "we've got painkillers but since it's natural to feel pain after you break your leg, we're not going to give them to you."   

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What is this feeling?

In terms of getting things done, today hasn't been a great day.  I wouldn't say I got a lot of stuff done at work, though I did a couple of things.   Wasn't terrible and not great.

At home I did non zero but minimal housework, and messed up supper because I forgot about my wife being out and then forgot about the leftovers.  Not a disaster at all, but not great.

Here's the thing.  This evening my pointer has been at pretty close to zero: summary of previous post, that is good. Which is a very odd feeling for me.   Unprecedented for months if I have a day where things have not gone great.    I am literally feeling uncomfortable about feeling ok.  

Last night I went to a pub quiz and we were told in one question to think about it.  I found it hilarious how our table of academics massively overthought it: "well it could be this but we haven't really thought about it yet."   This post is telling you that yes, I can see I'm overthinking this as well.

Guest post invitation

This post is  to invite you to write a guest post, should you wish to.

As an aside, my pointer has been at zero or close to it for several days now, thanks for asking.  Actually in general this year I have not been too bad, and sometime I'll post about a trick that has been working for me.  But specifically starting this blog has been helpful because it has given me something to do and make me feel we can do something about this.  Except that feeling good gives me a bit of that imposter syndrome again.

We do want a community and we are more about people telling them stories than giving advice.

It the minute we do not have a great setup for guest posts, but you can do this easily: just mail us at and we can put something up.   It will appear under one of our names but we can credit you.   Of course we will credit your preferred name, real, pseudonym, or anonymous.

Posts will be published under the share-alike creative commons licence, but you will retain copyright.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Occupational hazards

Now that medication peels away the layer of anxiety and emotional crashes I had as an ambient background, the effects of my work come in much starker view. There's a paper deadline on Friday. I am first author on an interesting result, for a conference none of us are used to writing for.

And the tasks I have grabbed onto require me to learn a number of professional tools I have never before touched in my life.

Yesterday and today had anxiety pangs hovering just under the surface. Friday is the paper deadline. Saturday I'm declaring an extended holiday with no work whatsoever until … oh, at least Monday or so.

What not to say to someone with depression

This post is just a link to an excellent post on an unrelated blog with this title.

Since many depressed academics don't like to talk about depression, and especially don't like to tell people they have it, it's an issue many of us face.   Many of these responses chime with me, but I think perhaps the one that might be more specialist in academia is "Oh, that's interesting, tell me about it!" since academics are interested in stuff.   Not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

I'll just quote the first paragraph and send you on your way:
I’ve come to the conclusion that most people who have never experienced depression have no idea how to react when I tell them I have a mental illness. They either look away and change the subject, or say some infuriating things. I often bite my tongue to hold back my honest replies. Here is a compilation of my ‘favourites’, and the things I would love to say back but daren’t:
The Melancholic Mummy: What Not To Say To Someone With Depression


We describe Depressed Academics as "A community blog about depression and mental health issues in academia and among academics."

The key word in that description is "community".   We are posting our own stories and thoughts but would very much welcome further input from the community.

Of course you can feel free to post comments on existing blog entries.  Anonymous comments or under a pseudonym are absolutely fine.  At the moment comments are open and unmoderated.  If we detect spam or abusive comments we will delete them, but otherwise please share your thoughts.

If you don't want to comment but want to contact us,  we have set up an email address and please do use it if you wish:

We have also set up a twitter account


and a facebook page.

We are not in any sense social media experts, or have any reason to favour twitter or facebook except for their popularity.  We are very open to suggestions for other ways to build this community.  

Finally: and this is critical.  We are not in any sense mental health professionals.  We are academics.  And we are not even lay experts.  This blog is by and for academics who might be depressed - or for others interested in what it's like for academics who might be depressed.   You should bear that in mind, and especially not take anything we say about mental health as being true.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Some resources ...

An old friend just contacted me with some links, and I want to share them.  They are more or less UK centric but they may well have links of international interest.   The first is a UK charity specifically targetting people in post-16 education who may be having problems.

  • Recourse,  a UK charity, which describes itself as "The only charity providing practical and emotional support to staff in FE & HE. Free, confidential Support Line: 0808 802 02 03." Obviously that's a UK number, but there are resources on the web site which may be useful for other locations. 
  • Recourse are on twitter as @RecourseCharity

The following links are not specifically academic and even more geographically limited (Scotland) but if people are looking for help they might be useful.

Thanks very much for these links.  Of course putting these links here is no endorsement of these sites and organisations.

I can feel the emotional crash

It hovers just outside my peripheral vision. It taps on the door, wants me to let it inside.

Two weeks ago, I would have already crashed by now. I can recognize the signs. The pressure in my head, the urge to just cry, to hide, the apathy, the anhedonia.

SSRIs must be working, because I don't seem to be crashing. I haven't gotten all that much done tonight — but after almost a week of solid all-evening work, working through the weekend, pushing for our paper deadline, it's probably just good that I drop off the grid for tonight.

But this here, this is a novel feeling. Almost crashing, but never quite. Feeling the lead-in to an emotional breakdown without it going all the way.

I can live with this.

Depression is not caused by logical mindsets

In the aftermath of Aaron Swartz' suicide, many geek/tech bloggers are writing about depression. Accomplished crackpot debunker Mark CC chimes in with a response. Several of his points are well worth paying attention to:

The implication that too many people will draw from that is that we just need to decide to make different decisions, and the disease will go away. But it won't - because depression isn't a choice. 
The thing that you always need to remember about depression - and which Benjy mentions - is that depression is not something which you can reason with. Depression isn't a feeling. It's not a way of thinking, or a way of viewing the world. It's not something that you can choose not to suffer from. It's a part of how your brain works.
The thing that anyone who suffers from depression needs to know is that it's a disease, and that it's treatable. It doesn't matter if your friends are nice to you. It doesn't matter if you know that they love you. That kind of thinking - that kind of reasoning about depression - is part of the fundamental trap of depression. 
Depression is a disease of the brain, and it affects your mind - it affects yourself in a terrible way. No amount of support from your friends and family, no amount of positive reinforcement can change that. Believing that emotional support can help a depressed person is part of the problem, because it's tied to the all-too-common stigma of mental illness: that you're only suffering because you're too weak or too helpless to get over it.
This vibes closely with my own experience. If it had been easy to get out of, I would have. If it was a choice, I would have pulled myself out. It isn't. I can sit in a room filled with the people I love, part of an animated discussion, and then feel myself fading. Within 15-20 minutes I've gone from life of the party, loving and loved, to utterly alone while the party continues around me, unable to speak up, and terrified of the people I love. There is nothing about this that is voluntary. Friends spotting this and paying me attention helps: but not straightforwardly, and often by speeding up the crash so that the pieces can be put together again afterwards.

Depression changes how I view the world, how I perceive things. It is not me picking a worldview, and the depression coming as a consequence — the depression shows up, and I am unable to see the world other than through the tarry glasses it brings.

If you are stressed, sad, or bummed out, there are friends, family, dogs, campus counselors who can help.
If you are depressed, there are psychiatrists who can help.
And one really difficult step is to tell — from the inside — which case you are in.

“But what are you so sad/upset about?”

This question has been on of the most difficult to encounter through all my problems and issues. It leads me on a merry goose chase to find some reason — any reason — why I might be feeling as I fell, and more often than not, I latch onto something correlated and trumpet that as the reason.

More often than not, it ends up blaming my wife.

More often than not, unjustly.

I meet the question all the time. It is one of the first my wife asks me when I am upset or anxious or sad. And the lack of a response is disconcerting. Can trigger an escalation for me on its own. It feels like there should be a reason, so when I can't produce one, something's clearly wrong with me.

And it kept re-surfacing during my psychiatrist interview last week. I had been talking to a psychologist for two meetings, going through things I felt, trying to describe — trying to even remember — what life is like outside the office we met in. Trying to capture the daily emotional crashes I'd had for months by that time. And then I meet the psychiatrist — who had read all the notes from these two preparatory meetings. I describe, over again, that I am getting emotional crashes, they come increasingly often. That I have a bipolar diagnosis and a treatment from about a decade ago, but I don't remember what they did (beyond giving me lamotrigin — back then it was experimental for mixed state bipolar), but that I want this to stop, somehow.

And the question comes: “But when you are upset, what is it you are upset about?”

And … I don't know. That, right there, is the clearest signal that there is something wrong with me that I can find. I get terribly upset. And I just don't know why. Had I known why, I could have tried to do something about it. If I knew that I am angry, or sad, or devastated, or afraid, of something in particular, I can tackle that source. Work on my scheduling if I know that it is stress. Ask colleagues for help if I am overworked. Figure out what the source is, and then do something about it. But that simply is not it.

I get upset. Sad. Angry. Afraid. Sometimes utterly terrified. And there is no reason. No causality. It just appears. And since I don't know why, nor from where, I can't see what I can do to prevent it.

Monday, 14 January 2013

What is it like to be depressed?

An aside.  Having started this blog yesterday I already feel a bit of a fraud.  I'm not that depressed, and never have been.  On the other hand I was diagnosed with depression some years ago and given cognitive behavioural therapy (which I found very useful), and I'm still taking the tablets.  So maybe I'm not such a fraud.  But I thought you'd enjoy this kind of negative thinking which I think depressed people are prone to (well I am anyway).

Being diagnosed with depression happened like this.  I went to the doctor a few times with being generally under the weather and poorly without any major symptoms.  After a couple of goes he said something like "You know, you don't seem very lively.  Maybe you're depressed."  I came home and said to my wife "You won't believe what the doctor thinks".  She said "Well, duh!"

I'm sometimes asked what it's like to be depressed.  Apparently I didn't know until my wife enlightened me: that is I was having those feelings but didn't know it.

If you've never been depressed it's great that somebody wants to find out what it's like. And for my next trick, I'll explain the colour akbanoii that only I can see.   And just like colours, even if we agree that this object is green, how do we know we experience the same thing when we see it?

It also doesn't help that depressed is an ambiguous word.  This was a problem I had when talking with my doctor or therapist.   Much of the news is depressing, and everybody might say "I got my paper rejected, that was depressing."   So in a medical depression sense a day with lots of depressing world and personal news may be a good day, while a day with purely good news might be a depressed and a very bad day.

Finally on to the question.  What is it like to be depressed?

For me only, the best I've come up with is this.   I imagine an old fashioned bathroom scales, the analogue kind with an arrow and a rotating wheel.     When you get off it, the arrow flies around like crazy and eventually settles close to zero.   But almost never at zero, because these scales never seem that accurate.  Sometimes the arrow is at a negative number, sometimes at a positive.   If it settles at a positive number, plus 3, that's bad, right? Because you're going to think you are 3 pounds heavier than you are.   If it's negative, that's good, because you'll think you are lighter than you are.

I find depression is like that in the sense that my mood varies a lot through the day, depending on rest, outside influences, enjoyment of work or life, many many factors.  But if the arrow on my mental scales starts off on a positive number, then I'll tend to be a bit miserable when nothing else is happening.  If the number gets large enough, I'll start to become less able to function well.  For example, I was thinking this before Christmas, and one day felt miserable all day and felt that the arrow was at 5.  But I was just about able to function.   The next day it seemed to be at 6 and it really became a struggle.  I managed to get through the day, but had to let some things go and just focus on getting through the day and not letting my daughter down.  But I had to let my wife down in a small way to get through.

When that pointer is zero or close to zero, I'm pretty happy overall.   That is to say, I'm neutral but - to be honest - my life is good in many ways so I'm delighted to have that pointer at zero.  I don't particularly want it to be negative to make me artificially high.

The goal of my life is to have that arrow on the scales settle to zero more often than not.

Sorry this post was so long.  I didn't have time to write a short one.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Introducing myself

Ian started this place, and has linked to my text on my own problems.

But there's no substitute for your own voice in introducing yourself, so here goes. An introduction, and call to action, of sorts.

I am Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson. I am a mathematician — started out in homological algebra, and now I am most active in applied algebraic topology. Currently I am at the tail-end of a sequence of post-docs, searching for a long-term academic job before my research funding runs out.

I, and those around me, have been struggling with my affective disorders for years. Within a few months of us first hooking up, my wife told me I had to do something about my outbursts. Some time later, I managed to get in touch with a psychiatric care unit, and two years of medication and therapy later my outbursts had gone from several times weekly to several times a year.

Mixed State Bipolar Disorder.

In the last year or two, things have gotten worse again. I have been moving around a lot — postdoc will do that to you, and I had several stints of a few months up to a year with stable living situation before everything changed again chained up after each other. Stress triggers. I tried late spring to get in touch with a psychiatric care unit in Edinburgh. By the time I was scheduled, I was already moving. Now, finally, I am in touch with a care unit in Stockholm.

Mild Depression.

I am ambitious, successful, full of ideas and energy, and produce research at what I think is a decent rate. I am engaged in my community, take care of my peers, and play an active role in shaping my field of research. My disorders hide when I am with people I do not know very well. As Ian says, if I do not tell you, you probably do not know.

Outside of academia, I am also an active member of the hackerspace community. Close friends of mine are avid presenters and organizers of hacker cons. During the last three years, there has been three widely publicized and high-profile suicides within the hacker community: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, then Len Sassaman — married to one of my best friends, and now Aaron Swartz — close friend to another of my best friends. At times it seems I keep seeing friends of my friends vanishing off the face of the earth, and leaving wrecks behind.

The hacker community has had enough of this. They have started organizing. They have started speaking up about it. They founded BlueHackers. Several of my close friends participated in a panel on depression in hacker culture at 28c3 — the Chaos Communication Congress of 2011.

And I find myself wondering…
Why not us?
Why is a depressed academic so much more on their own than a depressed hacker?

Help us make it not so.

Why Depressed Academics?

There's nothing special about being a depressed academic.

It's not special because if you're an academic you can be depressed like anybody else.

It's not special because there is not a special kind of depression for academics.

So ... Why?  Why start a blog called Depressed Academics?

The timing - doing it today is first because of the sad death, apparently by suicide, of Aaron Swartz two days ago.

And yesterday, this beautiful post on his own depression by Mikael Vejdemo Johansson.  Mikael was a colleague at St Andrews until a month or two ago.   We often shared coffee, and his administrative problems with moving to Sweden.   But guess whether I had any idea he was prone to depression?  Of course not.  And guess if he had any idea I was?  I don't know but I'm guessing not. 

But this answers the question: why now?   But still.  Why?

As Mikael says, in academia, depression is often "not Something You Talk About".  Well, we should talk about it. 

There are a few things which make depression in academia difficult.  

Academics get judged all the time.   When you finish a PhD you might think "that's the last exam I'll ever take."  But your entire career is being examined: every paper, every grant proposal, every lecture course, somebody is assessing it.   You know somebody who likes getting their work rejected?  I don't. And a positive review can say "this is excellent work" followed by pages of detailed criticism.  You might not be able to deal with being judged well, or to deal with it without getting depressed.   But it's ok.

Academics are smart people and hard working people.   And they are objectively successful.  Think about somebody just starting out on their academic career: a new PhD student has undertaken a difficult degree course, passed it at a high level, found a University to do their PhD in.   This is a great achievement, and more senior academics have more achievements.  So it can be easy to think that you should not be depressed because you have been successful.   But it's ok.  

Another thing that might makes thing difficult is that academics are very good at study and analysis. What if you feel from your self-analysis that you should not be depressed?   Then you feel you should not be depressed, and that can be depressing.  But it's ok.

Academics have what can be an incredibly fulfilling job.  New ideas, new thoughts, new minds to teach, it can be wonderful.  You might feel that you can't believe that - as I do - and at the same time be depressed.  But it's ok.

So that's why I'm starting this blog. Academics should have a place to see other people's stories.  To see that it's ok to be depressed.  To see that it's normal.   To comment and discuss if they want.  And to share resources on depression, whether related to academia or not.   

So I'm starting this blog and invite you to join in the conversation.  Please contact me with your own stories and I'll be happy to share them as long as you're happy to post them with the creative commons licence used for this post.