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This is an anonymous interview with a PhD student about mental health it talks frankly about depression and ADHD while studying.

Would you be comfortable sharing some background on mental health issues?

I was diagnosed with depression in my third year of undergraduate where I got to a crisis point. It got so severe that at one point I needed intervention at a train station from a passerby to stop me doing something stupid. Retrospectively this has been an issue with me since I was fifteen. I withdrew from my studies. At this time there were warning signs for ADHD (Attention Defecit Hyperactivity Disorder) but I thought that I was “too clever” to have that condition. As I passed through academia it became more clear that this was a problem and things started to fall apart.

How does ADHD feel from the inside when you are trying to study in depth?

It is incredibly hard to focus. I don’t know what schizophrenia is like but imagine your own voice talking over yourself. My version of ADHD is what would be called ADD in the past (attention deficit disorder). It makes my mind wander. A lot of people are surprised because when I feel triggered I talk a lot and it is very hard to shut me up. Some of the warning signs were there when I was a kid. I could not wait my turn to answer questions because I felt I was one of the smart kids and I wanted to answer.

Are there ways that people can interact that makes this easier?

Things being written down makes things easier. My thought processes can be non-linear. Sometimes when I seem to be listening my eyes have glossed over and I’m not really listening and have to reconstruct a conversation to catch up.

Are there any advantages to ADHD in studying?

It is a double-edged sword. It can be a super power but it can be an Achilles heel. I can have great attention to detail but then sometimes I can miss things. It is easy for me to find a rabbit-hole to go down. From a young age I always considered myself a scientist and one of the things I held in high esteem was that scientists observe and that this was a skill I should hone.

What parts of the PhD process do you feel are most challenging as a result of mental health issues?

Depression can be incredibly lonely. I work remotely and am quite often home alone which can be quite isolating. Then sometimes I come into the office and don’t get work done because I am talking to colleagues. I live a long way away and travel is expensive so being on a stipend means I cannot be in the office too much. I get bored incredibly quickly which can make things difficult. My biggest concern is that time is running out for my PhD when I am not making best use of my time.

What about writing papers and reports? How do these issues affect you then?

I think writing is not really my strong point. I love doing the research and the reading. Sometimes I have a concept in my head but it is very difficult to communicate. I have time blindness and I will blow through deadlines multiple times because I get too far “in the weeds” with following up on ideas. It is good when supervisors learn your strengths and weaknesses and know when to send a message saying “stop doing what you are doing”. One thing that really works for me is to have really small things to achieve that I can tick off from a list.

Are you ever offended by interactions with your supervisors in relation to mental health?

Yes and no. I find it quite hard to regulate my emotions when work is criticised. Sometimes very blunt feedback can be hurtful. Because I often lose interest in things I can quit things easily. My supervisors have been very supportive and understanding and helped me when I felt like giving up. On the other hand I can worry it makes them dismissive of my ideas at times.

What about interactions with fellow PhD students?

There are no major problems. I am a “people pleaser” and sometimes when I first meet people I can talk a bit too much. I takes a while before I can sit in comfortable silence. Countless times I have cancelled plans with friends because I can’t manage my workload or time because I prioritised my work badly.

What is your experience with the disability and dyslexia service?

I did not have my ADHD diagnosis until my first year. Up until the point of diagnosis the DDS was really good but after that it was really bad. Everyone I tried to contact was too overwhelmed to make time for me. People saying “you need to tell us what you need” is not very helpful when you are newly diagnosed and don’t know what you need. I took a break from study for my mental health during the first year of my PhD and reached out to DDS over the summer period. It felt like there was no service there during the summer holidays as the undergraduate students were away.

Mental health and your PhD