September heralds the start of the academic year in most parts of the world. For those embarking on a PhD in the year we emerge from a pandemic, there may be more need than ever to outline both a routine, and a mental health plan, that can help when stress levels peak. However, many universities are now beginning to pay attention to postgraduate mental health by issuing proactive mental health advice. Along with exercise, nutrition and building a support network, could CBD help PhD students cope?
A landmark 2017 Belgian study investigated both the psychiatric and psychological risk faced by PhD students. The factors that put doctoral researchers at risk? A combination of low pay, varying levels of professional and emotional support, and the mammoth task of creating a body of work entirely from a research question you’ve proposed; people often describe it as the ultimate test of resilience.
Postgraduate researchers occupy a liminal space in university life; not quite students yet not quite staff either. In fact, most stipends awarded to researchers work out at well below minimum wage in both the UK and Ireland. Student unions in both the UK and Ireland are campaigning to get doctoral students recognised as staff the way they are in Germany.
Along with financial concerns, most PhD researchers report finding their projects isolating, finding it difficult to achieve a work/life balance, and not having enough access to both professional guidance and mental health support. However, since the landmark study was published the sociologist turned student mental health advocate who published the research, Katia Levecque, believes that universities are slowly beginning to address this problem.
UK universities promoting mental health and well-being
In an interview with ScienceMag.org in February, 2021, Levecque praised UK universities and policymakers for “reacting to her study with top-down initiatives”. In 2020, the UK launched the Stepchange framework, a plan to promote mentally healthy universities. They advocate that students arm themselves with preventative tools to protect their mental health. Most academic institutions now publish more advice and resources on preventative mental health care.
They promote lifestyle hacks like exercise, nutritional supplements, healthy eating and offering organisational skills. Some universities are now offering yoga and meditation classes, more access to counselling and peer support and social groups.
CBD as part of a preventative mental health plan
Most of the preventative mental health strategies advocated by universities -promoting good sleep health and nutrition, finding ways to relieve tension and anxiety, exercise – are all powerful tools for maintaining a balanced life. Yet, it can sometimes be difficult to consistently employ these tools, especially when we feel overwhelmed and stressed. Could CBD be the key to helping students steadily maintain these routines as well as offering a natural anxiolytic (antianxiety) effect?
Learn more about: How CBD can help with anxiety.
CBD has shown preliminary efficacy in treating both mild anxiety and poor sleep health, according to a study carried out on human test subjects at the University of California, San Diego. The interaction of CBD with 5-HT receptors has been shown to promote anti-depressive, anxiolytic and neuroprotective benefits, although it’s still unclear how exactly this process works. More contributing research showed that CBD reduced cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in human test subjects when trialled against placebo effects.
It’s clear to see that policymakers, universities and the body of research advocates putting a mental health plan in place before you begin your studies. A unique and personal framework will help students prevent mental health problems.
As part of a preventative mental health strategy, there are strong indications that CBD could be a vital tool in maintaining mental stability when used in conjunction with other lifestyle measures. One thing however is certain, students should begin working out what tools they will need to stay mentally healthy before they begin their projects.
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