Build up a support network
Explore options with your peers and colleagues for pandemic-safe interactions. While you may not be able to completely replace the spontaneous exchange of ideas on a day-to-day basis, you can provide different opportunities to interact, socialize and solve problems.
Create opportunities for spontaneous interactions. Create a corona-safe space for team members to interact with one another in a relaxed context. This could be a group chat for breaks (“I will have a coffee in 10 minutes, does anyone want to join online?”), a virtual Open Space, or scheduled “drop-in” sessions.
Organize a “buddy” system. If team members do not know each other well, semi-structured systems may make it easier to socialize. Try creating a “buddy” or “round robin” system whereby participants are randomly matched with one another. Switch conversation partners at regular intervals (e.g., biweekly). Keep meetings low-pressure - participants should be able to set up meetings that are convenient for them and skip weeks that are particularly busy. Consider including “geographical” factors when matching, so that participants can meet in their neighborhood for a socially distanced walk. This also reduces screen time.
- Here is a customizable survey template to collect information for a buddy system.
- The output is collected in a spreadsheet. Buddies can be created by assigning each participant a number and creating a random sequence of numbers for pairs using online generators, e.g.
Option 3: Set up or join an ECR network. ECR networks, described above in section 3, can also be great for socializing.
For those interested in joining peer networks on mental health in academia, there are several initiatives in Berlin where you can learn about systemic challenges, discover resources, or meet like-minded peers:
- Scholar Minds
- Dragonfly Mental Health
- MDC PhD Representatives
- Mental Health Collective of Max Plack Institute PhDnet
- Mental Health Working Group of the Leibniz PhD Network
Work to de-stigmatize mental health. Take care of yourself first and foremost. However, if you feel able, and believe that poor mental health is affecting those around you, you can work to reduce stigma. This can create space for others to share their concerns or find support. While it may seem odd and uncomfortable, talking to others you trust at work can be a great way to remove stigma surrounding mental health. In small groups, you might ask each person to briefly share how they’re doing (e.g., “I have experiments all week and I’m looking forward to having data”; “My child is sick so it’s been a difficult week”, “My brain is fried from too many meetings”). Start by sharing yourself and acknowledge that you also sometimes feel tired and overwhelmed. Offer a “pass” option for people who aren’t comfortable sharing. If you are part of a journal club, consider discussing an article on mental health. This could be field-specific or a general look at mental health in academia.
The Wellcome Trust and Canadian initiative “Bell Let’s Talk” have both put together toolkits for discussing mental health in group settings.
Additionally, here are three “conversation starting” papers on mental health in academia: