Aug 21, 2017
This study aimed to establish what is known about the mental health of researchers based on the existing literature. There is limited published evidence on the prevalence of specific mental health conditions among researchers. The majority of the identified literature on prevalence relates to work-related stress among academic staff and postgraduate students in university settings.
Survey data indicate that the majority of university staff find their job stressful. Levels of burnout appear higher among university staff than in general working populations and are comparable to 'high-risk' groups such as healthcare workers. The proportions of both university staff and postgraduate students with a risk of having or developing a mental health problem, based on self-reported evidence, were generally higher than for other working populations. Large proportions (>40 per cent) of postgraduate students report symptoms of depression, emotion or stress-related problems, or high levels of stress.
Factors including increased job autonomy, involvement in decision making and supportive management were linked to greater job satisfaction among academics, as was the amount of time spent on research. Opportunities for professional development were also associated with reduced stress. UK higher education (HE) and research staff report worse wellbeing, as compared to staff in other sectors, in most aspects of work that can affect workers' stress levels.
The evidence around the effectiveness of interventions to support the mental health of researchers specifically is thin. Few interventions are described in the literature and even fewer of those have been evaluated.
Based on the evidence gaps identified and the information available, we suggest the following avenues for further research on this topic:
How are 'mental health' and 'wellbeing' understood in research environments?
What is currently known about researchers' mental health and wellbeing compared to other populations?
What interventions are used to support researchers, and what evidence is there of their effectiveness?
Conclusions and future directions