Update on ‘Culture of Acceptance’

Not too long ago, I talked about the frustration of Ph.D-induced mental health problems in the Academics Anonymous series on the Guardian Higher Education Network.

Yesterday, I was physically hugged by people who had had their lives changed by my article.

The issue is still being talked about, however it is not yet fixed. This blog describes some recent events that show how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

My blog talked about the ‘culture of acceptance’ around mental health issues in academia, particularly in Ph.D students, where long working hours with few breaks and fewer opportunities for a social life are deemed ‘best practice’.

The blog prompted an unprecedented response from the academic community. You can read my response to that here. It also prompted a response from the Guardian Higher Education Network.

I must praise the journalist who picked up my blog, Claire Shaw, for her dedication to this cause.

Not only did she continue to write on the subject, she also conducted research, and put together a series where anyone can go to read or comment on the subject.

Claire recently got in touch to say that because of the success of the series, they have been shortlisted for a Mind Media Award.

Here is an excerpt from the shortlist website:

The Mind Media Awards is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the positive impact that accurate and informed media reporting can have on perceptions of those with mental health problems. The judges really have a tough job picking winners, and we can’t wait to celebrate with the finalists at this year’s ceremony at the BFI! – Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind.

Within the ‘Publication’ award category, the [Guardian Higher Education Network] published a series of news articles and comment pieces about mental health in universities. It looked at the ‘culture of acceptance’ in higher education of depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. The reports prompted an unprecedented response from students and academics.

Naturally, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself. My blog had helped to inspired the beginnings of a culture change, which was being recognised by a top Mental Health charity! There might even be a fancy dinner!

Still on a high, I shared the good news with the women on my Springboard development course, and received a round of applause. People recognised my article from when it first went out. I had touched their lives then, and now they were pleased to be meeting the mystery author. I received hugs! There were even tears! One woman told me that I had given her the bit of paper she needed to show her academic supervisor that she was not going to shut up about her mental health.

But yet again, my happiness was conflicted.

For another woman told me that just a week an a half ago, yet another student had killed themselves while doing a Ph.D.


And so here we are, at the end of my update. It’s not much of an ending really, because I don’t quite know how to end it. I’ll let you know how we get on at the awards evening, I suppose.

What has this whole thing taught me? Blogs and articles and research are nice, but they’re no substitute for real support. Most people still don’t feel like it’s OK to talk about their problems, and some people still don’t feel like they can live through their Ph.D.

And now there are yet more people whose lives have been devastated by the loss of loved ones. More funerals. Less theses on the library bookshelves.

I’ll carry on talking about this. What will you do?


About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
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