Accueil > Revue de presse > À l’étranger > Overworked and isolated - work pressure fuels mental illness in academia - (...)

Overworked and isolated - work pressure fuels mental illness in academia - The Guardian, 8 mai 2014

jeudi 15 mai 2014, par Wilde, Oscar

Une enquête du Guardian montre que de lourdes charges de travail sont à l’origine de problèmes de santé mentale chez les universitaires.

A lire sur le même thème mais en France : Le burn-out des labos - Camille Thomine, Le Monde, 17 février 2014

Academics suffering mental health problems blame their university work directly for their illness, exclusive findings from a Guardian survey reveal.

Heavy workloads, lack of support and isolation are the key factors contributing to mental illness, according to respondents, who range from PhD students to vice-chancellors.

The Guardian survey, which specifically targeted academics suffering mental health problems, found that two-thirds of more than 2,500 who responded see their illness as a direct result of their university job.

Senior lecturers and those aged between 55-64 years feel most strongly about this connection.

Over half of academics, from the UK and overseas, say a heavy workload is having an impact on their mental health. A lack of support is also a key issue affecting 44% of respondents, which is felt across all ages from 25-64 years.

Just under half of respondents say they feel isolated, and others raise concerns around a "bullying culture", job insecurity and a culture of long working hours. A pressure to publish is felt by more than a third of 25-34 year olds.

The Guardian survey raises fresh concerns over the mental health of university staff – and their working conditions.

The area is little-researched, and this groundbreaking study helps shed more light on mental illness among academics.

National figures in 2012 indicated that in UK higher education around one in 500 staff (0.2%) disclosed a mental health condition to their university.

Other studies have focused more on stress and wellbeing among university staff, including one by the University and College Union (UCU) in 2013, which revealed that university staff are more stressed than the average British worker and that the problem has got worse in recent years.

The Guardian survey also uncovered a divide between different ages and types of UK institution.

Unreasonable demands by management

Feelings of isolation are particularly high among PhD students (64%) and those aged between 18-34 years, whereas senior lecturers and those over 45 years believe that unreasonable demands made by management are a key contributing factor to their state of mental health.

This is more true in post-1992 universities, where staff are more than twice as likely as those in Russell Group universities to say their mental health has suffered due to high demands from management.

Well over half (62%) of academics working in post-1992 universities feel they have heavier workloads than those in Russell Group universities, and many point to "student demands" as an issue. Those at Russell Group universities feel more pressure to publish.

"As 21st century academics, the expectations on us are, in effect, impossible," says Rosie Miles, senior lecturer in English at the University of Wolverhampton.

"It is simply not possible at any one time to research effectively, teach well, deal with endless administrative demands, put in major grant bids, be permanently available to students, mark (often lots of) work and have some kind of sensible, balanced work-life ratio.

"Something has to give, and sometimes what can give is an academic’s sense of her or his own worth and value."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, says : "Many academics and academic-related staff are clearly under far too much pressure and we know this level of stress in the workplace can be very damaging to mental and physical health."

Hunt adds : "With funding cuts, increased workloads and rising expectations from students and parents paying much more for their education, the situation is likely to become even worse."

A small scale study in 2008 by Universities UK looking into the mental health provision for students and staff at UK universities found that demand for mental health support services in higher education had increased significantly since 2003.

Although there are both in-house and external support services available for staff at many universities, are institutions doing enough to support their staff ?

The majority of staff who access the counselling service at Cardiff University come for work-related issues, says Tina Abbott, staff counselling manager at Cardiff University. "These are far-ranging, from work overload to difficult relationships with colleagues or managers, and living with uncertainty and rapid change."

Universities should take findings seriously

Ruth Caleb, head of counselling at Brunel University, says she has seen an increase in the number of staff seeking support for mental health issues – partly because, she says, the university is publicising its services better.

Universities should take these findings very seriously, says Caleb. "These figures outline the way things are going in some universities which are causing people more than a normal level of stress – and if staff are not happy, it has a direct impact on students.

"Part of the issue is universities have changed a lot and the goalposts keep changing," Caleb adds. "People are left with the rug pulled from under their feet – their sense of safety has been wobbled by changes that have been made without their consultation, and there is no control over that."

The survey also uncovered gender differences : more men (59%) than women (45%) say they did not experience mental health problems until they entered academia. While 68% of respondents who are professors and senior lecturers didn’t experience problems before beginning their working lives in universities, PhD students and researchers are more likely to have had previous mental health problems.

PhD student Ben Rich at Monash University in Australia, who has himself suffered from depression, says the stresses of contemporary academic life can "exacerbate underlying mental health issues like depression.

"There is a sort of dissonance that develops in academia," says Rich, "whereby those with the traits best suited to delve deeply into the topics they cover are also the most sensitive to the paradoxes in the system that prevent them from achieving their desired ends."

Over half of academics say their mental health problems have held back their careers – with 45- to 54-year-olds feeling particularly affected. And nearly all say it has an impact on their family and social life.

View the findings in full of the Guardian’s mental health survey.

PDF - 239.3 ko
Guardian’s mental health survey

A lire sur le site du Guardian.

Et aussi : We don’t want anyone to know, say depressed academics


Academics are suffering in silence from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders, exclusive findings from the Guardian’s mental health survey of 2,500 academics has shown.


Well over half (61%) of the respondents say that none of their colleagues are aware of their mental health problems, with only a slight difference in the figures for men and women.


An even higher proportion (66%) say they have not spoken to someone in a senior position, such as a line manager or research supervisor, about their mental health problems.


While the majority of academics say they have sought professional help for their problem, a third have not done so. The numbers reveal a marked difference between men and women : only 59% of men have sought professional help, compared with 68% of women.


The most commonly reported conditions are anxiety (83%), depression (75%) and panic attacks (42%), though a significant minority (15%) also report suffering from eating disorders, and 11% have self-harmed.




La suite sur le site du Guardian...