#30: Mental health in Academia

Mental health in Academia: Episode Notes

In this episode of the Stepsero podcast we draw attention to mental health in Academia once again.
According to the available data, the prevalence of depression in academic communities is 6 times higher compared to the general population. On top of that, about 40% to 50% of PHD students are affected by anxiety or depression.

Jelena Brasanac knows this all too well and co-Founded Dragonfly Mental Health, a non-profit organization created to address mental health in Academia at a systemic level.
The typically hierarchical structure that is often found within the academic world led Jelena and her colleagues to ideate what they call “Wellness Wheel”, which operates on five distinct domains of excellence: Department committee:

  • An additional layer between different hierarchical levels in academia, represented by people from different backgrounds and all career levels of an academic community. It is poised to work on sustainable actions and strategic initiatives regarding mental health.

  • Peer Network: to offer support and integration within the community and facilitate reach outs. Peer networks would work closely with department committees to help promote relevant activities.

  • Mental Health Literacy: Talks and workshops for individuals to better educate themselves on all matters related to mental health in Academia.
  • Skills Workshops: Primarily focused on the relationship between mentors and students, being this a complex and delicate power-dynamic within Academia. Thanks to these workshops, research leaders can be better equipped to support their students, for example by spotting early signs of burnout.

  • Fighting Stigma: There still is a significant stigma attached to mental health within Academia, as individuals often struggle due to their fear of being judged by others. Educational Initiatives targeting such stigma are set to alleviate any negative perceptions around mental health challenges within this environment. 

At this moment in time Dragonfly Mental Health counts on more than 100 volunteers coming from more than 15 different countries and over 22 disciplines, and is looking to attract partners that could help make their plans financially actionable.

Our Guest: Jelena Brasanac

Profile Pic Jelena Brasanac

Jelena Brasanac is a PhD candidate in the Medical Neurosciences graduate program at Charite Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany. She received a NeuroCure PhD fellowship for pursuing her research on stress and depression. Her work is investigating stress signaling dysfunction in subpopulations of blood cells and its relationship to stress-related brain areas. Jelena holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Molecular Biology and Physiology from the University of Belgrade in Serbia, where she also completed her master’s studies in Experimental Biomedicine.

Always driven towards action when recognizing problems and preferring bottom-up approach, Jelena has experience from working in NGO and student-led initiatives to organizing by students for students conferences. Considering mental health as an essential part of our overall health and a major determinant of the quality of our lives she co-founded Dragonfly Mental Health, a non-profit on a quest for cultivating mental health in academia. Jelena believes that giving the voice to and empowering early career researchers will lead to better and more credible science and foster a cultural shift in academia towards a more open, inclusive, and supportive environment.


Jelena Brasanac Linkedin profile

DragonFly Mental Health – website