For a number of years there has been a growing concern that postgraduate research students disproportionally suffer from a variety of mental health conditions. There has been some speculation as to the causes in the media, much it focusing on the increasingly resilience required to complete a PhD or doctoral-level qualification. Convention wisdom, as to be found in the likes of PhD Comics, is that when it comes to the impact on wellbeing, it really is “tough to complete a PhD”.
These allusions to the issues surround PGR mental health were brought to national attention in the summer of 2015 when research carried out by Exeter Guild of Students revealed some shocking statistics on the mental health of their members.1 In their research some 85% of the 165 respondents stated that their work had caused them stress but, much more alarmingly, 40% believed that their physical and mental health had worsened as a result of studying at a doctoral-level.
The key questions are likely to be: what are the issues that mean there is a PGR-specific problem (as opposed to UG/PGT), and why is this a problem now.
Students made clear to the Union of UEA Students that this was an issue they wished to explore at UEA and so in autumn 2015 the SU developed a programme intended to raise the profile of PGR mental health under the banner of ‘The Honesty Project’ – named to reflect the focus on our aim to get students and academics talking and being honest about PGR Mental Health. The beginning of this was the issuing a survey with the aim to gauge the scope of the perceived problem at UEA. The result of this survey are laid out in the following sections which aim to draw together themes identified by our Postgraduate research community. The Union of UEA Students is under no illusion that this report is exhaustive and, if anything, it has served to make clear that this is an area of work which will require continued and probing work over the next few years – but want we want to do is to start a conversation that acknowledges this issue for the crisis that we believe it has become.
You can read the findings of the survey and resulting report here: