Disclosing mental health struggles

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Disclosing mental health struggles

Postby WG » Sat Nov 21, 2015 4:29 pm

One of my referees recently asked to speak to me. He is a Professor at my alma mater and someone I once took a class with. He recently wrote me a letter for a postdoc position I applied for. Even though he did not specify what he wanted to talk about I'm thinking that it might be about the state of my career which has floundered since I graduated about 2 years ago. I know this is true for many other people as well. However in my case I also really struggled with mental health issues in the year I was finishing and for quite some time afterwards. I had symptoms of anxiety and/or depression which lasted throughout my writing period and beyond. Although I sought help from a counselor, in hindsight it wasn't sufficient. And all of this affected how I approached my job search i.e. strategy and even how I presented myself. Some of the issues were precipitated by relationship and family problems but some were as a result of feeling that I lacked adequate support as I neared the end of my program and also in the job search. On that last point I am not the only one among my contemporaries to feel this way. I am summarizing here since going into every detail would make the post too long. My question is whether I should reveal some of my mental health struggles to this person. My concern is whether someone may think I am complaining or whining since this is something most people won't admit to. Most of the symptoms are gone but after thinking long and hard over this I realize that what I went through really had a negative impact on me. Maybe this might precipitate changes in the program for the better--the Prof I mention is also a Dept. Head. Advice or alternative thoughts appreciated. Thank you
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Re: Disclosing mental health struggles

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Nov 22, 2015 2:17 pm

I would be very cautious that the person you're talking to doesn't get the impression that your life was in upheaval because of external factors (that's where it starts to sound like whining -- for example, "I didn't get the support of others" instead of "I screwed up and didn't pay enough attention to this or that . . . "). Very successful scientists know that their career is up to them, and not "others" -- that's a much healthier way of thinking. So, talking to this important person in your life is a chance to ask for advice -- admit to some difficult water you were treading over that year, but then move past those comments and tell him about your plan for the future. Ask what he would do! Perhaps this is a great opportunity to get some strategy for where you can go from here.

As an aside, saying that you didn't get enough support from others in the job search is really saying that you aren't comfortable with the process. That's because there is no job in the world more lonely than job seeking. It's not a group effort; it's completely up to you. (For example, picking up the phone and calling someone you don't know and introducing yourself.)

Good luck!

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