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Researchers’ Mental Health: Insights from the 7th Asian Science Editors’ Conference and Workshop 2022

The Council of Asian Science Editors (CASE) and the Korean Council of Science Editors (KCSE) hosted the 7th Asian Science Editors’ Conference and Workshop 2022, on 12th July 2022. Though CASE’s primary aim is to improve the quality of scientific journals in the region, one of the keynote speeches of this conference focused on results from the CACTUS Mental Health Survey, presented by Andrea Hayward, Community Manager, Global Community Engagement, Cactus Communications. This is a global survey on researcher mental health and wellness that has over 13,000 responses from researchers at various seniority levels across more than 160 countries and in seven languages. Diversity and representation of minority groups is a key characteristic of this survey.

The primary aims of the survey were to understand which aspects of their work keep researchers engaged, what causes them stress, and what key decision-makers can do to support researchers. The survey findings provide insights into the mental health challenges faced by researchers globally. To make the findings more relevant to the participants of CASE, Andrea focused on data collected from researchers working in Asian countries, which comprised over 50% of respondents. China, Japan, South Korea, and India were among the top 10 countries represented in the survey. In her keynote, Andrea covered the following critical points:

  1. An unusual survey finding was that participants working in China, Japan, and South Korea were least likely to indicate that their work situation frequently overwhelmed them, whereas researchers in the US, the UK, Germany, and Australia were the most likely. This observation is worth exploring since participants working in Asian countries reported working considerably longer hours than those in Europe and the US.
  • Almost 65% of the global sample said they felt immense pressure to publish papers, secure grants, and complete projects, with participants working in China, Germany, Nigeria, and Australia being more likely than others to agree that they were under such pressure.
  • Besides these work-related pressures, survey results also raised several concerns around the personal wellbeing of researchers. A large proportion of the global sample (over 40%) indicated they did not have enough time for recreational or social activities. 38% of the participants said that they did not get adequate sleep regularly, and that they were dissatisfied with their financial situation. Notably, just 8% of the participants strongly agreed that their organization had effective policies to help them achieve work-life balance.
  • Another key concern was the considerable number of researchers who reported experiencing some form of workplace discrimination, harassment, or bullying — 36% of the participants reported a lack of strict organizational policies to deal with such hostile behaviors in the workplace.
  • The number of participants who experienced work-related stress or anxiety and had not sought professional help was higher in Asian countries compared to English-speaking countries. Interestingly, while explaining their reluctance to seek professional help, more than half of the researchers working in Asian countries said that they felt they should deal with work-related stress by themselves, since these pressures are a normal part of life in academia.

The presentation was very well received, with Andrea stating, “It was a great experience and the interest and discussion on researcher mental health was quite heartening. The attendees were alarmed to see how normalized the work-related stress is among researchers, and they were keen to understand the measures institutions and organizations can take to provide better support for these researchers.” Researchers are at the center of the academic publishing system, yet not enough is done to better understand and resolve common mental health challenges faced by them. It is therefore heartening to see journal editors and publishers, who are powerful players in the academic sphere, take an interest in researcher mental health as they can influence implementation of productive measures to make the academic environment more supportive and nurturing.

Researchers’ mental health and wellbeing can significantly influence research productivity and output. Click here to access all reports, including publisher-specific insights, from the Cactus Mental Health Survey.

Marisha Rodrigues

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