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A mixed-methods investigation of mental health stigma, absenteeism and presenteeism among UK postgraduate researchers

Clio Berry (Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Brighton, UK)
Jeremy E. Niven (School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
Laura A. Chapman (School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
Sophie Valeix (School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
Paul E. Roberts (Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
Cassie Marie Hazell (Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, London, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 10 May 2021

Issue publication date: 2 August 2021

360

Abstract

Purpose

Postgraduate researchers (PGRs) appear to be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. Mental health-related stigma and discrimination may be endemic within universities, creating a threatening environment that undermines PGRs’ health and well-being. These environmental characteristics may increase PGRs’ absenteeism and presenteeism, attendance behaviours that have great personal and institutional consequences. The study of this issue, however, has been limited to date.

Design/methodology/approach

This was a mixed methods psychological study using cross-sectional data provided by 3,352 UK-based PGRs. Data were collected in a new national survey (U-DOC) led by a British University in 2018–2019. We used structural equation modelling techniques to test associations between workplace mental health-related stigma and discrimination, presenteeism, absenteeism and demographic characteristics. The authors analysed qualitative survey data with framework analysis to deductively and inductively explore associations between workplace culture, stigma and discrimination, and attendance behaviours.

Findings

The authors found that some PGRs report positive perceptions and experiences of the academic mental health-related workplace culture. However, experiences of mental health stigma and discrimination appear widespread. Both quantitative and qualitative results show that experiences of mental health-related stigma are associated with greater absenteeism and presenteeism. People with mental health problems appear especially vulnerable to experiencing stigma and its impacts.

Practical implications

Key implications include recommendations for universities to improve support for PGR mental health, and to encourage taking annual leave and necessary sickness absences, by providing a more inclusive environment with enhanced mental health service provision and training for faculty and administrative staff.

Originality/value

This study presents the first large-scale survey of PGR experiences of mental health-related stigma and discrimination, and their associations with absenteeism and presenteeism.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The data collection for this study was funded by the Catalyst Fund award from the Office for Students and Research England: Supporting postgraduate researcher mental health and wellbeing (P6).

Citation

Berry, C., Niven, J.E., Chapman, L.A., Valeix, S., Roberts, P.E. and Hazell, C.M. (2021), "A mixed-methods investigation of mental health stigma, absenteeism and presenteeism among UK postgraduate researchers", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 145-170. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-06-2020-0034

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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