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Writing Obstacle No. 4 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Belcher Journa Article in 12 Weeks

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m too depressed to write.

This is a very real problem and should not be underestimated. Depression among graduate students and faculty members is a common reason for under-productivity. 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 (Blackburn-Munro and Blackburn-Munro 2001). 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 very faculty 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 access, e-mail a few people for references and make an appointment with a doctor. 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 often provided free for graduate students, or can recommend an antidepressant. Taking any medication is a serious step, but antidepressants 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. The doctor may also recommend exercise, which has been found a good antidote to mild depression.

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.What is better than to set up some goal for your writing.


  1. Thank you for this. I only recently connected the dots and realized that I might be depressed. It has definitely been impacting my academic performance, and for the first time in my life I’m considering seeking help for my mental health (with which I have had issues before). Reading this was important for me.

  2. I’m really glad it helped. There’s not enough conversation about mental health at the best of times but it is such an unspoken feature of academia and writing lifestyles. Take care of yourself and the rest will follow!

  3. I think this is a really important post. Thank you.

    Have a look at this http://www.myfavouritemedicine.com/23-and-a-half-hours/

    My doctor prescribed this for me to cope with grad-school-related stress, which was manifesting in a sore back, trouble sleeping and general malaise-ishness. All of that can morph into depression when you’re not looking.

    I would add that other contributing factors are the isolation that can come with completing research and writing and the tendency to let academic work exclude other parts of a healthy life as we try to meet deadlines or be ‘good enough’ (poor work-life balance). Each day I set goals in three areas and in this order: self, thesis, other. “Self” goals are the things that sustain us over the long haul for the work we have to do. For me, they include eating well, exercise, social contact, pleasure etc. Really basic, but I think this has got to be the single hardest part of this work.

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