More psychologists are exploring alternative careers outside academia

To begin understanding the mental health needs of the University of Colorado Boulder faculty, Gruber recently joined the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning as an intern. A survey is being developed with colleagues at the center to assess faculty mental health and advise faculty on how to support students with mental health issues.

To better support educators, universities and colleges also need to create environments in departments that support openness about mental health, said Dr. Sarah Victor, professor of clinical psychology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He noticed that faculty and students were often passionate about breaking the stigma associated with mental illness in public, but the topic was somewhat taboo in psychology departments. “It’s been thought that people with these struggles may not be in a position to help others,” she said. “There is a fear of trial.”

Victor reviewed the literature and found a significant lack of research on mental health difficulties among applied psychologists. In a 2021 survey of 1,700 faculty and graduate students in clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs in the United States and Canada, 89% of graduate students and 71% of faculty reported experiencing a mental health challenge. Depression, generalized anxiety disorder and suicidal thoughts or behavior were the most commonly reported difficulties (Perspectives in Psychological Science, vol. 17, No. 6 of 2022).

After Victor began his studies, graduate students began talking to him more often about their struggles. One of the problems they faced was the lack of access to affordable mental health care that could guarantee anonymity. Students did not feel comfortable seeking help because local clinics were often training centers or staffed by former students.

PhD students and faculty who became parents during the pandemic have also faced unstoppable demands for research and publication, said Dr. Jessica Leveto, whose Facebook group PhD Mamas has grown from 2,000 members before the pandemic to more than 16,000 members in recent months. Leveto, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Kent State University in Ohio, surveyed hundreds of academic parents and caregivers in 2020 and 2021, and began interviewing study participants in 2022. “Graduate students are making conscious decisions not to go to academia because they saw how difficult and inflexible systems were during the pandemic,” Leveto said. “It’s still very much a publish-or-die world in higher education.”

Funding expectations have also caused a lot of stress among teachers. Luna Muñoz, Ph.D., was the deputy director of clinical psychology research at a UK university when she began experiencing job burnout in 2020. He started skipping meals and getting angry with family members more often because he was working long hours to keep up with deliveries. support, teach and train more than 20 graduate students during the pandemic. A university administrator informed Muñoz that he needed to become more involved in leadership activities in order to be promoted to professor, which prompted Muñoz to launch new diversity and inclusion programs in the psychology department. A few months later, the university announced that it would fire teachers who did not get enough funding, and he was in that category. “I was disappointed that the administrators were doing this because we sacrificed so many hours to keep the university going during the pandemic,” he said.

He began to question his leadership and grant-writing abilities, and Muñoz struggled with suicidal thoughts. Then he saw a post on Facebook about a 4-week course on burnout led by a retired professor. During the course, she was relieved to know she wasn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and defeated. Muñoz left his role at the university in the summer of 2021, and now coaches people in life transitions—including many in academia.

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