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Reconstructing my identity: An autoethnographic exploration of depression and anxiety in academia

Elaine Campbell (School of Law, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 15 June 2018

Issue publication date: 26 September 2018




The purpose of this paper is to offer an insight into mental health illness in academia, and its impact on academic identity.


The study adopts an evocative autoethnographic approach, utilising diary entries collected during the author’s three-month absence from her university due to depression and anxiety. A contemporary methodology, autoethnography seeks to use personal experience to provide a deeper understanding of culture. In this personal story, the author explores her decline in mental health and subsequent re-construction of her academic identity in order to enhance understanding of the organisational culture of higher education.


This paper illustrates how, rather than being an achievement, academic identity is an ongoing process of construction. Although mental health illness can contribute to a sense of loss of self, identity can be re-constructed during and after recovery. Autoethnographic explorations of depression and anxiety in higher education provide a deeper understanding of an often stigmatized issue, but researchers should be alive to the political and ethical pitfalls associated with deeply reflexive research.


There is little autoethnographic research on mental health illness in a university setting. This paper offers unique insights into the lived experience of depression and anxiety in the context of academic life, through the lens of academic identity.



The author is hugely indebted to the colleagues who supported the author during author's time away from work and author's subsequent return. The author would like to thank the two reviewers for their insightful constructive comments, and for helping the author in making the author's manuscript a much stronger piece of work. Finally, to “him”: here's to goats on plinths and a very happy married life together. We are a great team. Thank you for always being there.


Campbell, E. (2018), "Reconstructing my identity: An autoethnographic exploration of depression and anxiety in academia", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 235-246.



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