PhD and Depression


Hi all,

In March I started being treated for clinical depression and anxiety (with SSRIs). The first dose made me feel worse, the increased dose had a little effect but I was still feeling pretty crappy. Now I'm on an even higher dose which makes me feel a bit better, albeit still emotionally fragile. I was very reluctant to receive treatment as I didn't want to believe that I was "ill". I think I have been suffering from depression but not acknowledging it since at least July 2012. Although my PhD has suffered as a result of my depression, it is not necessarily the cause of it.

I'm doing a funded PhD in the sciences. My funding is runs out in September. I am not even close to finishing the research, nevermind submitting my Thesis. My supervisor was going to ask for a 6month extension to funding, but yesterday I received a letter stating that the department is concerned about my lack of progress and dedication to my studies and I will not receive any further funding (my supervisor is FUMING that they sent this letter without any discussion with her).

Given my current emotional state, I did not take this well (I spent ages in a friend's office crying), it really knocked me off my perch. This was really frustrating as I spent last week away from my uni city with my family and was starting to feel more positive about the work that I am doing. Now I just feel like crap again.

Although my supervisor and assessor are aware of my illness, the department isn't. Obviously this needs to go on record. I am seriously considering taking a month or so away from the PhD to get myself together properly. Has anyone done this? And returned to successfully finish their PhDs? I really want to work in academia afterwards, so a PhD is a necessity.

Any help or advice on getting through to the end of a PhD without funding and with depression would be greatly received!

Thanks in advance :-)


Quote From IntoTheSpiral:


I'm very sorry to hear of your situation OP : (

Would it be possible to get a longer break, say a few more weeks and see if you can regain your strength?

For the funding, is it possible to fund yourself? Which year are you in at the moment?


I am in my second year of my PhD and last year took a three month leave of absence due to a mood disorder, I'm doing a science PhD too. Have you contacted the disability services? They should be able to write to your department discuss reasonable adjustments that could be made.


Thank you for the kind words.

I'm seeing my supervisor this afternoon and I'm going to ask if I can take 2 weeks holiday at the start of June. I'm feeling sufficiently better now that I think 2weeks away from PhD will be enough to get me back on track. I can come back with a bang and finish the research. I'm not going to let a stupid bit of bureaucracy wreck me. Because I *was* feeling more positive about my research before that stupid letter.

It feels a little disingenuous to ask for holiday having received a letter saying I'm not dedicated enough to my studies. But whatever. I think a big problem is that I've been *too* dedicated and haven't had a holiday in 3 years! My mum lives by the seaside so I am going to see if I can stay there for free for a fortnight, taking my little kitties with me and leaving my computer behind.

Self-funding will be tricky, but it's not completely out of the question. I'll have to get one of those job things. Or beg the parentals.

And thanks, Thumbelina as well. I hadn't thought of getting in touch with disability services, but I will do. I'm reluctant to go on LoA. Really, I should have done that in January when I was at the lowest of the low, but I was still pretending it was fine and normal to want to be dead. Now that I'm accepting this isn't a normal emotional state I feel like I'm on the road to recovery (I frigging hope so anyways!)

One of the things I have been wondering about though, is what do you do with yourself if you're on LoA? Sorry if that sounds crass, but I'm really not sure what I'd do on a day-to-day basis if I wasn't working on my PhD!

I hope that you are feeling better now, and that research is going well.


To start with I really struggled to do anything at all. With support from a branch of the CMHT I did some work on increasing my activity levels, we planned out the week with an activity and a reward each day rating my mood before and afterwards. We started off small and built up the activities having a mix of ones inside and outside of the house. I also did some self-compassion based CBT with another member of the team. One of the important things I had to get my head around was doing things like meeting friends or going into the city centre of coffee was part of my treatment as much as taking antibiotics for an infection would be and not to feel guilty that I am there and not in work. The sort of activities I started with were things like do the washing up followed by reading a book with a cup of tea, towards the end I was able to go into the city centre window shopping and treat myself to cake and a coffee in a cafe.

I get the not wanting too, it was only following me losing health and safety clearance to work in the lab that led to me making the decision.

Things are better now although not perfect, still working on getting my medication just right so that I stop playing mood ping pong (I'm mostly likely bipolar). Feel free to message me if you want to talk to someone.


I think so many people go through similar experiences during their PhD, although it is not often talked about. I had a period of anxiety/depression during my studies, and looking back, I really wish I had just taken some time out to recover properly. I think this would have made the process much quicker, but like Thumbelina I felt guilty for not being at work and so I just struggled on, kidding myself that I wasn't that bad and just getting on with things. I was prescribed antidepressants and had a short course of CBT which helped, but the fact that I continued working without a break probably hindered my recovery. According to my handbook, I was allowed up to 8 weeks a year annual leave; I think I probably only took about 4 a year, and those weeks were plagued with guilt and I never really switched off from my PhD in that time.

I think that taking 2 weeks off sounds like a really good idea. You need to present the idea to your supervisor as a last break before you really launch into your studies, and make it clear that you NEED this break for the sake of your mental health. I never told anyone at the university about my problems, but this only exacerbated my guilt as I knew they were expecting me to work at the same rate as before but I didn't feel physically or mentally capable.

I hope everything works out for you; keep posting on here if you need us!


Thank you so much for that description Thumbelina. In hindsight, I definitely should have taken LoA in Jan and done just that. But never mind. I'm glad to hear that you're doing better now, and hope the road to recovery continues for you.

And Smoobles, that is *exactly* my problem. Even when I go away for a weekend, I usually take my computer and work on the train there and I always sleep with my notepad next to me. PhD is the first thing I think about when I wake up, and often the last thing I think about when I'm sleeping. Not. Healthy. I am actively trying to fix this, but it's hard to find other things to think about!

I suggested taking the first 2 weeks of June completely off to my supervisor and she was VERY enthusiastic at the prospect, she really didn't need any persuading at all. I am so blessed and grateful to have a supportive and understanding supervisor, even if other people in my department are less so. And she's a professor so she has some clout. So that's the plan. Two weeks of non-gulit ridden time off. Obviously, having no money I can't really do much exciting. But I'm going to read books for pleasure. And watch DVDs without coding during them. And I really can't wait.

She also said to ignore the comments on funding and that she was still going to request an extension for me, explaining the trials and tribulations I've been through over the past 3 years which have resulted in my broken brain. So, fingers crossed there is still hope on that front. But if not, she said she has a plan B. Again, my supervisor is the most awesome.

And this community is such a lovely supportive place. I'm definitely going to read and post here more often. I'm glad that I've found it :-)


Having been in a position not unlike that, I would say if you haven't had a holiday, take some time out and it would be worse with the antidepressants. I think the very reason you are crying lots is because you are utterly stressed and your body needs to get rid of it.

Take care and have time with your kitties.



I am also in a similar position, in the end I had to give in to my depression which was making me physically ill and write tell my supervisor about my situation. I went home and to cut a long story short the uni have suspended my studies for 6 months which means effectively a fresh start if/when i go back (was 6mnths in at the time).

At the end of the day dont feel overburdened to the uni or sup. there is more to life and feeling like crap all the time aint great, although taking time off wont necessarily stop those feelings.

All the best