Sunday, 13 January 2013

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.

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