Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 12:

“I’m too depressed to write.”

This is a very real problem and should not be underestimated.

Depression among academics is a common reason for underproductivity.

Depression is variously defined, but some causes are useful for academics to remember. Depression is an emotional disorder usually triggered by environment. Some researchers believe that continuous stress over a long period tricks the brain into responding to all events as stressful, which in turn triggers depression (Hammen 2015). Since there may be no better description of graduate school than operating continuously in stress mode, it is not surprising that depression is such a common problem in academia. Although the trigger is environmental, the effect is chemical—an imbalance in the neurotransmitters called dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Low levels of these natural brain chemicals prevent the nerve cells in the brain from transmitting signals normally.

This slow down makes people feel that performing daily activities is like struggling to walk through mud.

The terrible curse of depression is that it impairs the tool that you need to solve that problem.

So, if you suspect that you are depressed, go to your campus clinic and ask for an appointment with a doctor. If you don’t have such campus access, but do have access to health care, e-mail a few people for references and make an appointment with a doctor. (If you do not have access, I’m so sorry. It is a basic human right. You might try exercise, which has been found to be a good antidote to mild depression.)

This is the easiest step I know of to start moving beyond depression.

The doctor can then refer you to a counselor, whose services are sometimes provided free for graduate students and postdocs, or can recommend an antidepressant or mood stabilizer.

Taking any medication is a serious step, but some people still believe the myths about antidepressants. They aren’t designed to make you feel euphoric or to take away your blue feelings. They are designed to help you get up in the morning and complete tasks. They are about escaping that feeling of moving through mud; they are not about escaping your life. I can tell you that my productivity took a permanent turn upward after I started taking an antidepressant (aminoketone class). I’ve been on it for years.

If you are depressed, I know how hard it can be to take the steps to take care of yourself, but you simply must. Your academic future and maybe your life depend on it.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 12, one of the health obstacles listed on page 31 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).