Successful online seminar about Mental health strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic and more resources for doctoral researchers

In the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020, the first online seminar from the newly formed Mental Health Working Group of the Leibniz PhD Network was held online. Many people had already been under some form of quarantine for a few weeks, and it was clear that many junior researchers have been struggling with social isolation, confinement and uncertainty under the pandemic. 

Recently, it has become more and more evident that there is an ongoing mental health crisis in academia. For example, a recent survey of 50,000 graduate students in the UK showed that 86% reported significant levels of anxiety. The current pandemic is compounding existing issues.

The aim of the online seminar was to:

  1. Raise awareness about potential stressors triggered during the pandemic in the academic community.
  2. Provide tools and strategies to help researchers cope with anxiety, motivational issues, depression and other potential stressors related to working in academia under the current pandemic.

In the online seminar, we were fortunate to have an amazing and international line-up of guest speakers share their perspectives:

  • Dr. Desiree Dickerson (Academic Mental Health & Well-Being Consultant)
    Topic: Mental health and well-being resources during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Dr. Nicola Byrom (Lecturer in psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neurosciences at King’s College London)
    Topic: Managing anxieties and low mood during social isolation.
  • Moderator: Dr. Elliot Brown (Neuroscientist, Scientific Advisor and Mental Health Advocate at Charité Hospital & Health Care)

Here is a recording of the online seminar which is available at anytime online:

We summerized some highlights from the online seminar:

From Dr. Desiree Dickerson

From Dr. Hendrik Huthoff

From Dr. Nicola Byrom


Here is a list of free online resources that are available to use right now. In an act of solidarity, many companies are now offering their services for free, so it is a great time to take advantage of what is out there. 

There is a LOT of information listed below and within the links, so if you do not want to browse, but feel like some immediate support might help you, then check out the links numbered 1-3 before browsing the rest (**check these first):

  1. To get support from a real person/people online, for FREE, NOW:

** Hotline and free (only during pandemic) online video consultation from registered clinical psychologists (Maybe German only – ask first in consultation).

** Free (only during pandemic) online one-to-one psychological therapy and online resources (Maybe German only – ask first in consultation).

The Help Hub has been set up to support individuals who find themselves with limited contact due to the pandemic – speak directly to counsellors or volunteers.

Connect online to wellbeing professionals (counsellors and coaches) – targeted to people living away from their home countries – available only from May-June.

Live, virtual interactive sessions led by certified experts available multiple times every day of the week, on different topics.

Live therapist led classes and discussions on different topics.

A Daily Dose of Togetherness online meetings every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – a reflection from a guest speaker and a chance to connect and interact in small groups.

COVID-19 parental support group: a therapist led-discussion alongside other parents to find support and build community.

  1. Free mobile apps to support your mental wellbeing, NOW:

** Here is a great list of several mental wellbeing apps that are offering free services especially during the pandemic.

  1. Or, if you think that reading or watching something and getting exercises or tools to implement into your life right now would be helpful: 

** Excellent resource specifically for postgraduate research students to support your wellbeing, learning and research. Here you can find research, top tips, videos and downloadable action plans (from our guest speaker, Dr. Nicola Byrom).

Free online self-help e-health modules specific to the pandemic on topics like home, office, daily schedule, stress, insecurity and loneliness (German only).

Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry have developed a self-help cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based program especially for the pandemic.

A short guide on living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (14 pages) – this gives lots of evidence-based practical advice and exercises that you could start using right now.

A simple guide for practical steps and exercises for responding effectively to the Corona crisis, using the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

A Practical Toolkit for You and Your Family – mindfulness exercises for parents and their children.

Some helpful videos from psychotherapists and counsellors on how to cope with the pandemic.

Simple and easy to follow tips, with videos, from the UK’s NHS on dealing with anxiety during the pandemic.

Some tips and exercises from Positive Psychology, an evidence-based method originally developed by Martin Seligman: 

More General Resources

Articles, videos about advice and support on mental wellbeing:

World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for maintaining mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

Seven tips to manage your mental wellbeing from Desiree Dickerson.

I’m an academic, not a therapist. How do I support my group members’ mental health and well-being right now? A cheat sheet for checking in” – An article from Dr. Desiree Dickerson.

Student Minds – the Uk’s student mental health charity (founded by our guest speaker, Dr. Nicola Byrom).

SMARTEN, a large national research network focusing on student mental health in higher education (led by our guest speaker, Dr. Nicola Byrom)-

The Positive Psychology Center – a huge amount of readings and videos about the practice of Positive Psychology.

Q&A session on mental health and the COVID-19 from an expert at the WHO.

Recording of a webinar from Kings College London on maintaining health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

Lists of more resources:

Great list of online health resources (many Germany specific) from the Bundesministerium für Gesundheit.

A great list of COVID-19 articles and resources on mental health, stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, wellbeing and productivity put together by Dr. Desiree Dickerson (updated daily).

List of research and opinion papers, websites, policy documents, information handouts.

List of resources from the Blueprint Group Newsletter.

Open-source list of online mental wellbeing resources.


Regulations on video medical appointments in Germany.

Anxiety free news (German only).

From the Members of the Working Group Mental Health of the Leibniz PhD Network: Dolly Montaño, Elliot Clayton Brown, Marcel Rechlitz, Stefanie Do and Irene Broer

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