Improving Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being of Researchers

by Jamie Vernon | Mar 16, 2021


In September 2020, I wrote about the mental health crisis among STEMM students, researchers, and educators. Despite increased attention to this issue at higher education institutions, the problem appears to be worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is time for more creative and robust efforts. 

According to a December 2020 survey by the American Council on Education, 68 percent of university presidents ranked their top two most pressing concerns as “student mental health” and the “mental health of faculty and staff.” The consequences of this crisis are not clear, but the insufficient response thus far has resulted in increasing levels of mental illness, substance use, and other forms of emotional distress among students. 

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), released in January, calls for U.S. colleges and universities to undertake initiatives to improve the culture on their campuses and increase support for the well-being and mental health of their students. This request involves a multi-pronged approach, including “a focus on prevention, identification of high-risk students in a thoughtful way, effective community-based approaches, treatment services for identified cases, and relapse prevention and post-treatment support.” The authors of the report also suggest that higher education institutions should address institutional culture that can contribute to the increasing incidence of mental health and well-being concerns.

In 2019, the Council of Graduate Schools launched a two-year project, Supporting Mental Health and Wellness of Graduate Students, in collaboration with The Jed Foundation, a non-profit that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults. This initiative will recommend evidence-based policies and resources to support graduate student mental health and well-being, prevent psychological distress, and address barriers to effective support and care. 

While these initiatives will provide insightful guidance to higher education institutions and we look forward to their implementation, Sigma Xi recognizes an immediate need to offer emotional support during the pandemic emergency, economic turmoil, and social disruption its members are currently experiencing. Emotional support is a fundamental human need, and three in five Americans and many more worldwide are not getting nearly enough of it. 

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that Sigma Xi has signed a one-year agreement with Happy the App, a 24/7 phone-based emotional support service. This partnership will allow Sigma Xi to offer free-of-charge support services to its members.

Happy ensures that people have on-demand access to genuinely caring people who are there to listen, console, and encourage them, any time day or night. Using their phone from the comfort of home, Sigma Xi members can make a call and immediately receive emotional support through Happy’s secure and confidential service.

Because we recognize that stress and anxiety are universal challenges across the research community, particularly during the pandemic, Sigma Xi members from all career stages and research sectors are encouraged to use these services. 

Active members will receive an email this week that will provide additional details about the Sigma Xi and Happy partnership and our commitment to addressing the mental health needs of our community in a safe and healthy way. We will share how and when to use the free service, including the opportunity for wellness checks from Happy support givers and we cannot wait to share this new resource with all of you.

If you have questions or suggestions about improving mental health and well-being within the research enterprise, please send them to me at


Jamie L. Vernon
Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO

Jamie Vernon signature



Related Reading:

As the pandemic erodes grad student mental health, academics sound the alarm

Source: Science

Amid concerns about grad student mental health, one university takes a novel approach

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A Very Mixed Record on Grad Student Mental Health

Source: Inside Higher Ed

New Council of Graduate Schools initiative focuses on graduate student mental health and wellness

Source: Carolina Graduate School

Mental Health, Substance Use, and Wellbeing in Higher Education

Source: National Academies Press

Graduate students need more mental health support, study highlights

Source: Science

Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education

Source: Nature

Grappling with graduate student mental health and suicide

Source: Chemical and Engineering News

Trainees and mental health: Let’s talk!

Soure: Science

Science careers and mental health

Source: Nature

Supporting the Whole Student: Mental Health and Well-Being in STEMM Undergraduate and Graduate Education

Source: National Academies Press

College and university presidents respond to COVID-19: 2020 fall term survey, Part II

Source: American Council on Education 

Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being

Source: Council of Graduate Schools

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