Dr. Zoë J. Ayres is an analytical scientist advocating for the improvement of services and considerations around mental health in academia. We asked about her thoughts on how universities can support researchers and how her project #100voices has become a platform for researchers to speak openly about their mental health struggles.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm Zoe Ayres, I am an analytical scientist working in the water industry. In my spare time I am a mental health advocate working to improve academic mental health and break the stigma that still surrounds it.
Why do you think mental health matters in academia? What could universities do to improve their strategies in helping academics with their mental health?
In the ‘publish or perish’ academic culture, mental health concerns are not often talked about, even though they are rife. In order to do world-leading research, it is important that we look after our researchers - that includes the mental health of the academics doing the work. A lot more needs to be done by universities to improve academic mental health. This may be as simple as starting by acknowledging that the academic culture adds pressure that can impact mental health, to improving funding for support. Academics are often in positions where they support others’ mental health but are not trained in providing that support themselves, so adequate training and acknowledging the pastoral roles academics have would be hugely beneficial.
Could you tell us a bit more about your mental health project #100Voices? How is the project going so far?
My #100Voices Twitter project was set up to create a space for members of the academic community, from undergrad to professor, to share their mental health journeys. The project was designed to show that mental health concerns are prevalent throughout academia. It was also created to highlight that researchers that may struggle with mental health are not alone, as well as to celebrate the success and struggles of mental health. I started with 100 entries, and have recently started running another 100, and have over 300 total waiting to be released. I thought people would not be forthcoming in talking about their mental health, but it has been refreshing to see people come forward and share their stories. It certainly shows that the stigma around mental health is changing.
What advice would you give to researchers on how to maintain positive mental health in academia?
I would say that everyone's version of self-care is different. I would advise taking the time to figure out what your self-care looks like, be it physical exercise, a cup of tea or preparing a meal. I would also say that sometimes the workloads can get overwhelming in academia and it is important we set boundaries and ask for help when we need it. You are not alone!
Congratulations on being nominated for the Positive Role Model (Disability) Award at The National Diversity Awards. How does it feel to be nominated?
I could never have imagined that my mental health experience would turn into something so positive. It is a real honor to be put forward for this Positive Role Model (Disability) Award). I don't do the work for any form of accolade. Helping just one person is enough with mental health advocacy. However it's lovely that people have put forward their support. I think it is important to see mental health representation, as it helps work towards breaking the stigma.
At Hindawi, we currently have several open Special Issues discussing mental health across our portfolio of journals:
These are some of our published articles, aiming to improve our understanding of mental health and potential strategies:
At Hindawi, we understand our researchers may struggle with mental health and an increased workload, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are an author, reviewer or editor for one of our journals, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] if you want to inquire about a deadline extension or ask us to momentarily pause your editorial work.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.