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Mental health at work: young social scientists meet up during YAL Faculty lunch

The Young Academy Leiden strives to connect young academics with each other and strengthen their position within the University. It goes without saying that mental health is a topic that cannot be ignored here. That is why that was the theme of an again successful Young Faculty Lunch, this time at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

The room at the Pieter de la Court Building slowly fills with young researchers on Wednesday 7 December. A few recognise each other, so the conversations have already started before the official programme has. The Faculty lunch, organised by the Young Academy Leiden (YAL) and sponsored by the Faculty, is not only meant for peers to meet each other. The session also has a substantive component: mental health among early-career scholars.

Research on mental health in academia

Julia Henrich, YAL member and psychologist, welcomes the groups and gives the floor to Inge van der Weijden, senior researcher at CWTS. She tells the attendees about the Researcher Mental Health Observatory (ReMO), an European project on mental health in the academic world and the question which policies have the most impact in this area.

‘Most universities are aware of the mental health challenges that their staff faces. What is lacking, is the evaluation of current policies,’ says Inge van der Weijden. And while Leiden University has set up several initiatives to improve a healthy mental state among staff, many in the audience do not know them all.

Mental health is a priority for the YAL

The YAL is meant specifically for early-career researchers, YAL member and anthropologist Annemarie Samuels explains. That group has its own challenges when it comes to mental health. ‘Early-career scholars are put under an enormous pressure to achieve success, especially with temporary contracts. They feel like they have to say yes to everything.’ But a permanent contract does not equal an easy life: ‘The work pressure of education is so high that there is no time left for research. As someone in the audience already said: the contracted hours are simply not realistic.’

That is why the YAL is permanently occupied with mental health, oftentimes behind the scenes and on a policy level. But the YAL also regularly organises these (inter)faculty lunches during which mental health and related topics, such as social safety, are discussed and conversations between young academics are stimulated. And last year, the YAL published a position paper on work pressure containing concrete recommendations to tackle it.

Attention for mental health

Anna van Duijvenvoorde, YAL member and psychologist, is happy with this lunch session. You can see this subject is very topical, she notices. ‘People do not feel like they are taken seriously in their work. I think that is a task on board level. There are all kinds of facilities for students and PhD candidates, but fewer for staff.’

All the more important that attention is given to it, for example with the ReMO project, but also simply on a Wednesday afternoon with a sandwich in hand.

Photos: Daantje Gutker de Geus
Text: Emma Knapper

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