Special coverage: Mental health challenges
Katia Leveque, Frederik Anseel, Alain De Beuckelaer, Johan Van der Heyden and Lydia Gisle worked together on the study ‘Work organisation and mental health problems in PhD students’, which was published in May 2017. The study unveils the harsh reality experienced by students struggling to balance work-family conflicts, professional demands, control over their job, and their supervisor’s leadership style. These challenges expose the students to high levels of stress, and can lead to mental health issues.
The study is based on a sample of
This sample was then compared to mental health data for Flanders as a whole; the data were extracted from the National Health Interview Surveys. Data for three specific groups were used:
- highly educated individuals in the general population;
- highly educated employees;
- higher education students.
The aims of the study were to:
- assess the prevalence of mental health problems in a representative sample of
PhDstudents in Flanders (Belgium);
PhDstudents with three other groups;
organisationalfactors relevant to PhDstudents that predict mental health status.
RESULTS: AROUND ONE IN THREE
PHD STUDENTS AT RISK
The study states that 32 % of
These disorders can be linked to the work-family interface, job demands and job control, the supervisor’s leadership style, team decision-making culture, and perceptions of a career outside of academia.
Other factors also contribute, such as increased workloads intensification and the pace of change
But not all
WHY THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM
The results are worrying for science for three reasons:
- the work of
PhDstudents constitutes a major source of scientific advancement, it is thereforecrucial to protect and support it; PhDstudents with mental health issues may pose a considerable cost to research institutions and teams;
- those problems may impact the supply of researchers for the research industry. If students are not helped in an adequate manner, they may turn their backs on their
PhDstudies, or even leave research altogether.
The study emphasised the need for more empirical data that makes it possible to identify solutions to the problem.
Policy-makers should work on prevention by raising awareness and by developing
Universities should develop a risk-management approach to identifying the risks likely to affect the mental health of employees. The OiRA website provides an introduction to risk assessments.
Read the study at: