How Academic Societies Are Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Researchers
Recent evidence suggests that mental health issues are becoming more prevalent among researchers in academia. One review study suggested that the amount of job-related stress under which researchers work has increased significantly due to a greater emphasis on productivity and job performance measurements. This added pressure to obtain funding, publish papers, and establish a positive reputation leads to long working hours, intense competition among colleagues, and job insecurities. Insights from a recent conference of Asian science editors provided additional evidence that the high stress experienced by researchers has been linked to increased burnout and depression.
A great amount of literature published in the past few years discusses mental health issues of PhD students and academic researchers. However, well-researched suggestions for alleviating the problem and specific programs designed to support the wellbeing of researchers are few.
Universities and other academic institutions have been working individually to help reduce the stress experienced by researchers and to support their students and staff through policies, education, and resources. However, research societies can also play a major role in supporting the mental health of their members because they reach across multiple institutions and disciplines. A few of the ways some societies are providing this support are briefly described here.
Webinars and Workshops
One way in which research societies are providing support to their members is by offering webinars and workshops. For example, some years ago, the Royal Society of Chemistry held a workshop to investigate ways the Society might better support the mental wellbeing of early career researchers. More recently, the American Chemical Society offered an interactive webinar to STEMM graduate students that provided suggestions for self-managing the members’ mental health. The webinar was cohosted by numerous other research societies across such disciplines as physics, biology, and chemistry.
Similarly, the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine organized a series of free webinars dealing with topics like burnout and stress management. Meanwhile, the European Society of Clinical Pharmacy included mental health among its webinar topics for 2022.
Collaboration with External Services
Sigma Xi, a research honor society, has partnered with Happy, a mental health platform, to offer various mental health services to their members. These services include workshops, a network of peers with healthcare/caregiving backgrounds with whom members can connect and a state-of-the-art communication platform.
Likewise, the American Medical Association also created specific resources to reduce burnout and improve practice sustainability among physicians, through collaboration with Mathematica, a global research and policy organization.
Workplace Environment Initiatives
Workplace environment plays a large role in the mental health and wellbeing of academic researchers. Some society-led initiatives developed to decrease bullying and harassment in the academic workplace include mentoring, continuing education, and legal support.
For example, the American Society of Gene + Cell Therapy set up a mandatory anti-harassment and non-discrimination policy for all their events. The American Society of Mammologists also has a similar policy that applies to all employees, members, and volunteers whenever they are conducting society business or participating in society events or activities. Similarly, the European Society of Surgical Oncology and British Association of Surgical Oncology have pledged to combat all forms of discrimination, bullying and harassment.
These activities, especially if expanded to include more aspects of mental health, can provide much-needed support for struggling academic researchers.
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) offers a wellbeing and listening service to its members, which allows them reach out for confidential support when they are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. The service is provided by the Chemists’ Community Fund, the benevolent fund for the RSC. The website also provides links to other mental health resources that are available to members.
The American Society for the Advancement of Science also recognizes the importance of good mental health for science practitioners. The association’s website includes numerous articles and blog posts related to the issue and possible institutional responses. Recognizing clinicians’ growing need for mental health support during the Covid-19 pandemic, the South African Medical Association included a special issue on mental health in their society newsletter. On similar lines during the pandemic, the American Society of Anesthesiologists compiled various resources for members that included free or low-cost mental health support services.
Mental health support is gaining in prominence among the various resources that societies offer to members. This is a positive trend as societies are recognizing the various stressors of academic life and are attempting to enhance the overall well-being of their members. The mental health crisis in science is a serious issue with potentially severe consequences for the future state of research. Consequently, it is increasingly important for societies to respond to their members’ mental health needs.
Cactus Communications has launched THINK Academia – a global initiative against bullying in academia. THINK is an acronym that stands for what we believe an ideal academia should be: Thoughtful, Humane, Inclusive, Nurturing, and Kind. Click here to learn more.