Aca­demics ‘face higher men­tal health risk’ than other pro­fes­sions

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Holly.else@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple work­ing at uni­ver­si­ties find their job stress­ful, and aca­demics are more prone to de­vel­op­ing com­mon men­tal health dis­or­ders than those work­ing in other pro­fes­sions, ac­cord­ing to a sys­tem­atic re­view of pub­lished work on re­searchers’ well-be­ing.

A lack of job se­cu­rity, limited support from man­age­ment and the weight of work-re­lated de­mands on their time were among the fac­tors listed as af­fect­ing the health of those who work in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

The re­port, com­mis­sioned by the Royal So­ci­ety and the Well­come Trust, urges in­sti­tu­tions to work more closely with the UK’s reg­u­la­tor on health and safety in the work­place to ad­dress the risks to staff well-be­ing.

For the study, re­search in­sti­tute RAND Europe con­ducted a lit­er­a­ture re­view to find out what is known about men­tal health in re­searchers, and iden­ti­fied 48 stud­ies, which it an­a­lysed for the re­port en­ti­tled Un­der­stand­ing Men­tal Health in the Re­search En­vi­ron­ment.

“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,” write Su­san Guthrie, a re­search leader at RAND, and col­leagues in the re­port.

About 37 per cent of aca­demics have com­mon men­tal health dis­or­ders, which is a high level com­pared with other oc­cu­pa­tional groups. More than 40 per cent of post­grad­u­ate stu­dents re­port de­pres­sion symp­toms, emo­tional or stress­re­lated prob­lems or high lev­els of stress, they say.

“In large-scale sur­veys, UK higher ed­u­ca­tion staff have re­ported worse well-be­ing than staff in other types of em­ploy­ment in the ar­eas of work de­mands, change man­age­ment, support pro­vided by man­agers and clar­ity about one’s role,” the re­port says.

Real and per­ceived job in­se­cu­rity is an im­por­tant is­sue for re­searchers, par­tic­u­larly those at the start of their ca­reers who are of­ten em­ployed on a se­ries of short-term con­tracts, the re­port adds.

Dr Guthrie and col­leagues found that staff who de­voted a lot of their work time to re­search ex­pe­ri­enced less stress than those who did not. But it was not clear whether this re­duc­tion in stress was re­lated to the se­nior­ity of sci­en­tists who are able to spend time more on their re­search.

Among the re­port’s con­clu­sions is a call for uni­ver­si­ties to work with the Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive to help ad­dress work­place stress. The or­gan­i­sa­tion has is­sued man­age­ment stan­dards that de­scribe how work­places can iden­tify and mit­i­gate stress at an or­gan­i­sa­tional level, they say.

“It could be use­ful to work through that ap­proach with a univer­sity or a re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion to iden­tify the mech­a­nisms at play in those en­vi­ron­ments. Do­ing so could es­tab­lish the rel­e­vance of the ap­proach in this con­text, and po­ten­tially pro­vide a model that could be used more widely in the sec­tor,” they add.

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