Biomedical Scientists prioritising mental health

Learn how these teachers and researchers balance work and wellbeing – they say, a critical factor in career success.

Playing lead guitar in a heavy metal band, open water swimming, hiking, performing in a symphony orchestra, learning another language. These are just some of the pursuits School researchers and teachers prioritise to help maintain their mental health and wellbeing.

World Mental Health Day is Monday 10 October and the month is dedicated to mental health awareness. The theme of this year’s World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative is Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority.

Now more than ever, we need to mobilise efforts to support mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global crisis for mental health, fuelling short- and long-term stresses and undermining the mental health of millions, according to the WHO. One in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder in 2019 and anxiety and depressive disorders are estimated to have risen 25 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.

Recognising the importance of mental health and work-life balance, some of the School’s leading researchers and teachers share how – and why – they balance wellbeing and their world-class careers in hope that industry peers and students alike are inspired to follow suit.

Professor Erica Fletcher (above), Laboratory Head and Neuroscientist, Department of Anatomy and Physiology

“I play violin in a symphony orchestra and find playing loud, fast, difficult music is a way to turn off from the stresses of the world. I love the camaraderie of playing in an orchestra. There is something special about working towards a common goal and the challenge of playing well at a concert. I play in three concert series a year, and think having hobbies and something to focus on that is completely different to work is important – it helps me turn off and reduces stress.”

Professor Alice P├ębay, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anatomy and Physiology

“I started open water swimming during the pandemic and went from hating cold water with passion to being totally addicted to this activity and the feelings I have during and post swim. During COVID, it forced me to stop thinking of all the worries of the world during the hour of the swim. I now continue this ritual as it is essential to my wellbeing. After a swim, everything seems okay and within reach. It improves my everyday life and work by allowing a calmer approach to problem solving.”

Dr Michelle Rank (above), Senior Lecturer Topographical Anatomy, Department of Anatomy and Physiology

“I love hiking because you can enjoy your surroundings and the company of fantastic people. Taking the opportunity to be separate from your normal work environment and getting out into green space is such an important boost for my mental health. The days can be extremely long, and you spend an awful lot of time with technology. It’s sometimes tough to make time for passions outside work, but so important you don’t lose that counterbalance. Remember, you have time for what you make time.”

Dr Garron Dodd, Laboratory Head, Department of Anatomy and Physiology

“I’m a keen guitarist. I play in several bands, including a heavy metal band. You should always find time for the things you love because having a hobby distinct from work is very important. Many times in my career this has given me a perspective on my work that I just couldn’t see. Music and science are very similar processes; they have rules and structures, but you have to use the principle differently to make something original.”

Dr Charlotte Clark (above), Teaching Specialist and Senior Lecturer, Department of Anatomy and Physiology

“I love to walk! I try to prioritise going for a few short walks during week and one longer walk on the weekend. I recently completed a 30km charity walk with some University colleagues. We are now looking forward to a 45km walk in 2023. Getting into nature and fresh air gives me time to think and reflect. The best part is you don’t really need any special equipment to walk and you can do it anywhere, anytime.”

Professor Matthew McKay (below), Honorary Professorial Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

“I have a young son, so naturally much of my personal time involves parks, playgrounds and scooters. I also enjoy playing guitar, hiking and running. For several years I enjoyed learning to speak Chinese, but I’m pretty rusty these days!”

Dr David Stroud, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry & Pharmacology

Exercise is the best value buy for public health – it’s low cost and can be hugely beneficial for health. Different types of exercise can improve mitochondria (your cellular powerhouse)– and your quality of life.”

Professor Jenny Wilkinson-Berka, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, concludes there is no place for stigma and discrimination around mental health and wellbeing.

“Increasing awareness about which preventive mental health interventions work for you is so important. Our researchers and teachers are great advocates for finding balance in life and enjoying the benefits of doing so.”

Find out more about University of Melbourne mental health and wellbeing services and support:

By Harriet Edmund