Graduiertenakademie der Universität Heidelberg

Seminarprogramm Zusatzqualifikationen

Im Neuenheimer Feld 370
Raum 4
69120 Heidelberg

Dr. Melanie Niese

Telephone Icon 17x17 + 49 (0) 6221 54 - 19769


Researcher Mental Health and Well-being Manifesto

(ReMO COST Action, published on Zenodo, October 8, 2021)


Mental Health Support

Overview / Introduction
Meditation Apps
Articles & Publications
Useful weblinks

Self-Management – Mental Health Support

Online tools for support, prevention, and self-assessment as well as interesting reads regarding various aspects of mental health preservation under stress

IMPORTANT - Please note: none of the content below is intended for use if clinically depressed or suffering from other serious clinical conditions. If in doubt, please make sure to contact the Heidelberg University psycho-social counseling for students (PCS; in German: Psychosoziale Beratung für Studierende) at or its anonymous online counselling service. The PCS offers students expert counselling in all personal conflict situations. Both counselling sessions and online counselling are strictly confidential. No fees are charged. Should there be need for psychotherapy, the PCS offers help in finding a suitable therapist.

Overview / Introduction

Pursuing a PhD is inspiring, hard work, and at times joyful and deceptive; a boot-camp for intrinsic motivation, perseverance, dedication and diligence. It also provides for an in-depth experience in dealing with pressure, competition and job insecurity. However valuable such experience might be and however important the meta-level of such learnings might be, doing PhD research should not be bad for the mental or physical health of the candidates. Innumerable reports, surveys and analyses have been published throughout the last decade or two, some of which are reassuring (along the lines of “you are not alone”), some of which are providing elements of coaching and others a rational digest of the issues and factors that are supposedly contributing to the stress of PhD candidates, thus triggering phases of eventually deteriorating mental health. Within the following sections you will find a selection of relevant articles, information about some qualified tools for self-testing about crisis vulnerability and self-management if slightly in crisis, carefully chosen addresses where to go when trying to prevent crisis mode and a choice of entertaining books sharing international experiences by your peers.

Keywords (in alphabetical order): Anxiety, Burnout, Depression, Imposter Syndrome, Mindfulness, Prevention, Procrastination, Relaxation, Self-testing, Sleeping issues, Stress management, Time management




MoodGYM – an online, interactive self-help program to combat symptoms of mild depression and anxiety

MoodGYM is an online training program designed for individuals who would like to prevent mental health problems, to reduce symptoms of depression and/or to enhance their psychological strength. IMPORTANT NOTE: MoodGYM is not suitable for people with clinical levels of depression or anxiety.

Languages: MoodGYM is available in German and English; the German version is for free (supported by AOK – Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse); the English version comes with a monthly fee. Inquiries regarding an institutional subscription are ongoing.

Provider: MoodGYM was originally developed by Professors Helen Christensen and Kathy Griffiths in 2001 and evaluated for over 15 years by researchers, clinical, technical and design experts at the Australian National University (ANU) continuously including feedback from young people in the community. By now, the responsibility for advancing MoodGYM, for its continuous scientific evaluation and for further dissemination lies with e-hub Health – an ANU spin-off company managed by the senior MoodGYM team. Scientific trials evaluating MoodGYM have shown that using two or more modules is linked to significant reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms. The trials also found that these benefits still last after 12 months. MoodGYM has been the subject of over 40 peer-reviewed publications.

Target group: original conceptualized in an academic setting for especially young adults; demonstrated effectiveness in individuals of various ages and ethnicity in different settings.

Format: The program is composed of five 20-to 40-minute modules, an interactive game, anxiety and depression assessments, a downloadable relaxation audio file, an online workbook for users to record their responses to quizzes and exercises and track their progress through the program, and a feedback assessment. The modules are designed to be completed sequentially over a 6-week period.


Fee: moodgym individual access (12 months) is available for €24.00 (plus local taxes of €4.56).

+++ Please note that data for the program is stored in Australia. +++

Contents (descriptions taken from the MoodGYM-portal):
MoodGYM is a modular interactive self-help program intended to learn and practice skills which can help to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is an interactive self-help program to help users prevent and cope with irritations which are troubling but not incapacitating. With respect to web-based self-management programs MoodGYM is globally with over 1 million users one of the most popular and also most tested programs.  The program is anonymous and confidential and guarantees for secure handling of user data.
The training sessions focus on aspects of cognitive behavior therapy, including cognitive restructuring, the relationship between thoughts and feelings, behavioral activation, relaxation, stress management and problem solving. At the completion of each module, users are provided with a summary of the module's key concepts, as well as any changes in the user's self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms. Throughout MoodGYM, users are encouraged to further develop the skills learned in the program by applying and practicing them in real-world situations.


Fully automated treatment that adapts to individual patient needs and works as a standalone or fits into existing therapy plans. It is designed to facilitate recovery from depressive symptoms.

Languages: Deprexis is available in nine languages, including e.g.German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Provider: Developed by GAIA AG’s multidisciplinary team of experts in medicine, clinical psychology, psychotherapy and software development. In Germany, the tool is supported by a number of health insurance providers including but not limited to DAK or IKK Südwest.

Target group: individuals with (mild) depression symptoms

Format: The program is composed of 11 modules of 10 to 60 min each.

Access: ; ; test version (3 day access for free) at

Contents (descriptions taken from the deprexis-portal):
Deprexis is a modular interactive self-help program, accessible across all devices with internet capabilities, allowing patients to self-manage their depression anytime, anywhere, in the available language most convenient to them. It is a fully automated, AI-Powered digital treatment and as such a CE-marked medical device with market authorization from the FDA. It is a safe and confidential and can easily be integrated into any existing care plan. Deprexis is clinically shown to reduce depressive symptoms as well as improve self-esteem and quality of life. It provides Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other effective psychotherapeutic techniques. It is tailored to specific patient needs and cognitive capabilities.

Literature on studies evaluating the effectiveness of deprexis is available at or

GET.ON – an online, interactive self-help program to combat symptoms of depression and anxiety, sleeping problems, and to deal with stress or pain.

GET.ON offers on-line training programs specifically designed for individuals who would like to (a) prevent depression or to (b) prevent a relapse into depression or to (c) reduce symptoms of depression at an acute stage.  

Languages: German only

Provider: For the last decade GET.ON has established itself as the major hub for developing and disseminating e-mental-health offerings in Germany. GET.ON is a partner of the European Society for Research on Internet Interventions (ESRII). GET.ON founder PD Dr. David Ebert serves as president elect of the international sister organization ISRII. In Germany, the tool is supported by a number of health insurance providers including but not limited to Barmer.

Target group: individuals with (mild) depression symptoms, as well as e.g. stress, anxiety, pain, sleeping problems.

Format: GET.ON trainings are clustered in eight different problem areas. The program for depression prevention is composed of 8 Online-Units of 45-60 min each. It is recommended to follow at least one unit per week; the training is available for one year once booked.  


Contents (descriptions taken from the GET.ON-portal):
For a complete overview of the GET.ON online trainings go to All trainings are designed in a modular fashion to function as interactive self-help programs. The programs are anonymous and confidential and guarantee for secure handling of user data.

Literature on studies evaluating the effectiveness of GET.ON trainings is available at



Meditation Apps

The Apps portrayed below only represent a very small choice of what is available. They have been carefully chosen for their price tags and features according to serious evaluations published by health insurance companies, major newspapers and expert societies over the past few years (e.g. Barmer, Techniker Krankenkasse, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, American Psychological Association). For further offers especially for advanced users it is recommended to check Headspace, Zenify, or Zazen Meditation Timer.


Languages: German only

Target: meditations for all kinds of purposes, e.g. relaxation, falling asleep, combating anxiety, despair or anger

Format: various forms of exercises, 2-minute meditations, option for reminders for mindfulness trainings during the day

Access: App-store; a basic version is for free; an elaborated version comes with a monthly fee



Languages: English

Target: to support meditation and mindfulness-training; especially good for beginners

Format: short exercises (6-10min), more than 80 guided meditations of various lengths and for various thematic fields, and a meditation-timer

Access: App store to purchase the app for a small fee



Languages: English

Target: to support meditation and mindfulness-training; stress reduction

Format: offers different modules for topics ranging from mindfulness to better sleep

Access: App-store; a basic version is for free; an elaborated version comes with a monthly fee


Stop, Breathe & Think

Languages: English

Target: to support meditation, relaxation and mindfulness-training

Format: guided meditations and a meditation-timer; offers a mood-quiz to start each session in order to support the user for identifying a suitable meditation reflecting the current mental, physical, and emotional status; meditations can also be started without the supporting quiz; a dashboard captures progress and information about predominant emotions  

Access: App-store; a basic version is for free; some features require a cost-free sign-up, some come as in-App purchases for a small fee



Articles & Publications (ordered by publication date)

Feeling lonely in research? You’re not alone. Opening up about my feelings during my PhD was powerful and cathartic (Nature, Career Column, September 01, 2022)

Researcher Mental Health and Well-being Manifesto (ReMO COST Action, published on Zenodo, October 8, 2021)

Mental health of graduate students sorely overlooked (Nature, June 28, 2021)

Six lessons from a pandemic PhD student (Nature, May 6, 2021)

Pandemic burnout is rampant in academia (Nature, March 15, 2021)
Remote working, research delays and childcare obligations are taking their toll on scientists, causing stress and anxiety.

Ways to look after yourself and others in 2021 (Nature, December 18, 2020)

Why comparing yourself to other graduate students is counter-productive (Nature, October 27, 2020)

Overcoming perfectionism during the pandemic (Nature; July 16 2020)

The mental health of PhD researchers demands urgent attention (nature Editorial; November 13, 2019)
Anxiety and depression in graduate students is worsening. The health of the next generation of researchers needs systemic change to research cultures.

Managing Your Mental Health as a PhD Student ( by Joanna Hughes; July 25, 2019)
Doing a PhD is hard. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things you do in your life. But should it compromise your mental health? No. Unfortunately, many graduate students struggle with mental health issues due to a culture that some say puts a sometimes unbearable-seeming amount of pressure on scholars. The good news? Recent research and news has shined a light on the phenomenon. Here’s a closer look at the problem, why it’s happening, and what can be done to reverse it.

Being a PhD student shouldn’t be bad for your health (nature Editorial; May 15, 2019)
The first international meeting on postgraduate mental health opens this week, but much more is needed to solve academia’s crisis.

What medicine can teach academia about preventing burnout (nature career column by Yoo Jung Kim and Erik Faber; May 03, 2019)
Burnout – work-related stress resulting in emotional and physical exhaustion – remains an expected rite of passage for many professions. However, the medical community has begun to place more emphasis on reducing burnout and the medical programmes we see in our training as physician-scientists are becoming more progressive and supportive of students. Here’s what academia can learn from them.

Recognizing and Preventing Burnout in Grad School (career advice by Academic Positions April 2019)
Academia is a field where the line between work and life tends to get a bit blurry. High workloads, high expectations are a recipe for stress—and prolonged stress leads to burnout. Burnout means being emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. Someone who is burnt out always feels tired, has no motivation, can’t focus, is inefficient, apathetic, and hasn’t been performing at their usual level. Once you recognize that you are feeling burnt out, here are some things you can do to recover.

How mindfulness can help Ph.D. students deal with mental health challenges ( by Katie Lang; March 27, 2019)

Feeling overwhelmed by academia? You are not alone (nature Career Feature by Chris Woolston; May 02, 2018)
Five researchers share their stories and advice on how to maintain good mental health in the hyper-competitive environment of science.

Science careers and mental health (nature Collection; April 30, 2018)
Science’s hyper-competitive environment and its ‘publish or perish’ culture can breed anxiety and depression. Nature's latest global graduate survey, published in October 2017, showed 12% of all respondents had sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD studies. And an international study published in Nature Biotechnology in March 2018 provided compelling evidence of a mental health crisis in graduate education with nearly 40% of respondents showing signs of moderate to severe depression. Our online resource aims to highlight this important issue and provides support and advice, not only to scientists struggling with poor mental health but also their colleagues, mentors, and supervisors.

Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students (Research Policy, Volume 46, Issue 4, May 2017, Pages 868-879, by KatiaLevecque, Frederik Anseel, AlainDe Beuckelaer, Johan Van der Heyden, Lydia Gisle)
Highlights: (1) One in two PhD students experiences psychological distress; one in three is at risk of a common psychiatric disorder. (2) The prevalence of mental health problems is higher in PhD students than in the highly educated general population, highly educated employees and higher education students. (3) Work and organizational context are significant predictors of PhD students’ mental health.



Useful weblinks

Your contact on campus:

Independent and scientifically proven information about clinical depressions and other clinical conditions can be found at:

More general information on latest observations and reflections on mental health in academia and especially during stressful phases during PhD studies can be found at:



Books (leisurely reads)

Dear Oxbridge Liebesbrief an England (in German) by Nele Pollatschek, published January 21, 2020; Verlag Galiani Berlin
Insiderbericht aus den Elite-Universitäten Cambridge und Oxford und Liebesbrief an ein eigensinniges Stück Europa.
See pages 95-107 for a "personal account" on the imposter syndrome.

You Must Be Very Intelligent: The PhD Delusion (in Englisch) by Karin Bodewits, published July 10, 2017; Springer International Publishing AG
You Must be Very Intelligent is the author’s account of studying for a PhD in a modern, successful university. Part-memoir and part-exposé, this book is highly entertaining and unusually revealing about the dubious morality and desperate behaviour which underpins competition in twenty-first century academia.

Schadenfreude, a Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words for (in Englisch) by Rebecca Schuman, published February 7, 2017; Flatiron Books
Schuman’s journeys to Germany and her pursuit of further connection with her beloved Franz Kafka […] entertains while relating her inner conflicts, personal and cultural hypocrisies, and overblown self-delusions during her decades-long struggle with the German language, [the academic system; added] and those who speak it. Schuman’s engrossing book is a feast of honesty, humility and humor, all the hallmarks of great confessional literature." – Publishers Weekly

Verantwortlich: Eric Herbst
Letzte Änderung: 17.01.2023
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