Interview transcript - Wendy Ingram (Open Update)

This is a transcript of the interview with Wendy Ingram (Season 2, Episode 6). Listen to the podcast on Anchor. The transcript is slightly edited for readability and available under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication.


Chris Hartgerink: Welcome to the second season of the Open Update. For Liberate Science, I'm your host Chris Hartgerink. In this season I interviewed 10 guests over the course of nine weeks, about the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.

We talk about what it means to them, their work and the future of research, so that we can start understanding what it means to us, our work and our future in research.

What new ways of being lie in store for us and what we want to accomplish. There is a lot to agree or disagree with, and I encourage you to leave us a voice message. Don't be shy. Don't be a stranger.

Today, we talked to Wendy Ingram about best practices for improved mental health, especially in light of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.

She is co-founder and CEO of Dragonfly mental health, a nonprofit cultivating mental health among academics. Founded in 2019, the project already has over 300 volunteers and reached over 20,000 academics in 45 countries.

Her own academic experience took her through Berkeley, where she received her PhD in molecular and cell biology, university of Arizona, Geisinger Health, and John Hopkins university. Throughout her academic experience, she saw the effects of academic culture on mental health, motivating her to work in this field and ultimately co-founding the impactful Dragonfly mental health initiative.

Today we'll talk to Wendy about best practices for improved mental health, especially in light of the UNESCO recommendation on open science, around questions, such as what does mental health have to do with open science and what can we learn to improve mental health overall in science, but also beyond it.

Wendy, welcome to the Open Update.

Wendy Ingram: Thank you so much. It's great to be here, Chris.

Chris Hartgerink: We like to just start off most of our guests with the same question so we can calibrate different perspectives to the UNESCO recommendation. We're interested to hear from you in this interview, what do you think a low hanging fruit from the UNESCO recommendation on open science is?

And also what's an aspect that will be more difficult to realize from your perspective, with this mental health issue in the background?

Wendy Ingram: Thank you so much for that question and for this series, because it's just so important to get different approaches from so many people ultimately focused on the same thing, which is beneficial systemic change.

One of the things that we focus on, obviously in our name, is mental health. We decided to focus on this  because of a number of personal and professional issues that I've seen and encountered over my 19 years in the academic and research space.

It's absolutely critical, to the success of individuals, of programs that are training and conducting research and, the greater academic institutions worldwide. We're all interlaced and interacting in a way,  where everything really hinges on individuals being at their best, which right now we really aren't.

Across the board, we're finding that newer research folks in academia are struggling with depression and anxiety at rates much, much higher than the general population. Graduate students in a 2018 study, were found to be at six to eight times higher rates of depression and anxiety respectively.

And this is just unsustainable.

I like to make a comparison with the world-class athletes. They take care of their bodies because that is their instrument. It's really unfortunate and tragic in my opinion that we in academia don't take care of the thing that we rely on the most: Our own minds.

Like any other organ in our body, the human brain is something that can be influenced by the environment, by genetics. And so it's a biological and environmentally influenced organ that can, when overly stressed, cause problems for the individual. What we also know from research in epidemiology is that mental health, in contrast to a lot of the physical health diseases, really depends concretely on community awareness and skills and support in order for people to engage in treatment, seek treatment when they need it and to get better.

One of the things that I think open access is absolutely key immediately, as well as long term. Open access is one of Dragonfly mental health's core values.

Chris Hartgerink: So I want to dig into the importance of mental health in a second a bit more, but I do want to go back to that core of the question around the UNESCO recommendation.

Wendy Ingram: I think that the, similar to I'm sure what other folks are gonna point out, low hanging fruit is really in the space where a lot of progress has already been driven and moved.

Primarily, in my personal opinion and understanding, is in the open scientific knowledge. Open scientific publications, open research data, open educational resources, open source software, source code, and open hardware.

These are really important things that are going to be at the core of all the rest of the recommendations for sure. It is something that has to be very carefully guarded in all the progress we have made.

So for myself, I actually was raised by the open science wolves, so to speak. I was in Mike Eisen's lab as a graduate student at UC Berkeley, who was one of the co-founders of the Public Library of Science. So the indoctrination runs deep for me. Some of the ways that this plays in is that you have to walk your talk.

You can't just say you support open science and then not actively engage in a way that discourages non open science and knowledge. I don't review papers in journals that are not open or at least have an open access component to it. I do not submit in those, Mike would kill me if I ever published anything in those, but not just because of that mentorship pressure.

It truly is phenomenally disempowering leaving an academic institution that has the resources, that has the money, that has all these subscriptions to these closed access journals that I don't have access to. I'm no longer at Johns Hopkins. I'm no longer at UC Berkeley. And suddenly I can't get access to the most recent publications.

This is preposterous.

This is absolutely ridiculous.

And to be perfectly frank and a bit critical of my own field that I'm in now,  having moved from molecular and cell biology more directly into mental health, the mental health community in particular really is behind in this, open scientific knowledge.

So the lowest hanging fruit really for me is: Every single mental health article and epidemiology study and mental health informatics studies should be in an open access journal.

That's the lowest possible hanging fruit. There needs to be a major culture shift.

Chris Hartgerink: The difficult thing to realize is translating this macro level policy into the everyday behavior,  and also to capture all the diverse sets of behaviors because mental health field might struggle with very different challenges. This is also a nice segue because we've been talking about mental health.

We've been talking about the UNESCO recommendation and in preparing for this interview, I've read the UNESCO recommendation a few times, but I wanted to double check and I noticed that mental health is not mentioned in the UNESCO recommendation at all.

Wendy Ingram: So I'll talk about that in two components.

One from the mental health research side of things. It's really,  dropout or exclusion because there is so much just deep seated stigma against mental health and "I'm not seeing that as a biological science." It absolutely is, it's treated differently when it really ought not to be.

All of this plays into researcher and the individuals within the system they're talking about their own mental health. If you want inclusion, if you want diversity, if you want these things that open science can bring us, you have to pay attention to the fact that what the impact of not having that does.

And it's a hundred percent on other things that I think were mentioned, but it really is hugely negatively impactful on a lot of people. It's some of the things that people throw out and don't know enough about, which is what Dragonfly is working very actively to counter, this lack of mental health literacy. This basic understanding of individual and societal mental health terms. What contributes to the development of these things? What are major stressor and impacts on imposter syndrome? On development of anxiety and depression? On development exacerbation of pre-existing genetically driven diseases like OCD or bipolar disorder? These things that people in the scientific community have are made horrifically worse by the exclusion that happens through closed science, essentially.

It's really an unfortunate oversight that the UNESCO guidelines did not specifically engage folks who know and are working on this in the scientific community worldwide. And hopefully it will be included in future topics because it is so glaringly missing.

Chris Hartgerink: You mentioned,  equity inclusion, and those are some key pillars in the UNESCO recommendation. How does mental health relate to that?

Wendy Ingram: This is such a great point. I want to just say it early and often, to emphasize that mental health and diversity-equity-inclusion (DEI) efforts are inextricably linked to one another. Absolutely and if you're talking about one, you have to be talking  about the others.

As far as just breaking it down as an example, though, of how mental health and DEI are involved is that one of the things that we know from the mental health literature is that there's much higher rates of depression and anxiety and mental illnesses among folks who are minoritized or marginalized.

We talk about this in almost every single one of our talks and  mental health education pieces, as well as the skills training workshops that we do and offer at Dragonfly. We always bring up diversity of experience and the research environment and how that impacts people.

We always bring up the idea of microaggressions, which is the most common form of exclusion and marginalization that people, who have diverse experiences from the historical scientific community, have. These are things that are really important to know about, to look at, and to know that these kinds of stressors that are maybe perceived as harmless comments, exclude people. When repeated on a daily basis or regular basis at the very least, even if it seems minor, it's othering to those individuals and it makes them feel like they do not belong.

People with higher IQ and higher educational attainment is that they also report, in addition to minorities, that they experience mood disorders and anxiety at higher rates than the general population, and are much, much less likely to seek treatment for it. These are huge components that are absolutely inextricable from each other and they should always be talked about at the same time, in my personal opinion.

Chris Hartgerink: Your point about this only increases the importance of including mental health in that sense within the UNESCO recommendation, or just thinking about open science in a more broad sense,  because as you say these effects compound.

So you already said, I think six to eight times more likely, in academic situations to suffer from a mental health issue at some point. So if then, you're in one of these marginalized groups that can very quickly go to 20 times, 30 times, maybe even 40 times as likely, and that's only just to be able to do your work properly.

You're not even talking about thriving in that sense. Which also is a nice segue to the next question,  for which I would like to play a short audio clip before we go there.

Have I struggled with mental health conditions? Yes. I've struggled with depression. I had a major episode back in the eighties and a subsequent cycles of mild depression, which I learned to recognize for what they were. Fortunately.

I have a longstanding history of, anxiety and depression, since my undergraduate. years. But I didn't know that at the time I only recognized it in retrospect.

Do you ever get the answer that people know? No one who's struggled with mental health conditions? I'm not sure that would be possible in today's world. So the answer would be yes.

Yes. I have personally struggled with mental health conditions and I also know people, who has struggled as well.

Chris Hartgerink: So these were some of the audio clips from your "Breaking the stigma" video on YouTube, on your website. I think these are very powerful examples because these are all established researchers who share their very vulnerable story about the fact that they have struggled.

These are people who are looked up to, but also who supervise other people. It's regrettably courageous today to say these things. And you've previously mentioned mental health literacy and support skills to be key to improving mental health. We also heard it in this clip just now that "struggled with depression, but luckily I recognized it."

Sort of this undertone of "what would've happened if they hadn't recognized it?" And before we round out the interview, we're talking about best practices. We talked about the UNESCO recommendation and there is so much learning. I know my own journey has been long. It's been hard at times and being able to recognize those things has been is key to my day to day health now.

So where can listeners start to learn, with respect to mental health literacy, or how to support themselves or others, around mental health?

Where can they start learning these skills?

Wendy Ingram: I would love to share those resources because they are open access. Everything we do at Dragonfly mental health is centered around our seven values. One of which is open access. So everything we can, we are making a hundred percent creative commons by attribution only, freely accessible to anyone. Just give us a little reference and so more people can find us. We want everything to be immediately available to folks. And so we have a YouTube channel that is freely accessible and anyone can reach it, who has access to YouTube.

We also care very deeply about active inclusion and and deliberate diversity. And so we have closed captioning available for each and every one of these. If they are still not presented in a way that you have full and free access to please reach out and let us know so that we can make sure that's available to you.

I would recommend starting with our Mental health literacy basics. That really goes over some of the most common issues that people face,  and discusses the causes, the symptoms and the solutions. One of the most common mental illnesses and impactful ones is depression. So I personally created a talk called, it's "primer on depression" and we go into some of the molecular level details.

We go into what are the signs and symptoms, what's surprising and often overlooked, not recognized about the diversity of ways in which depression can manifest. And also what you can do about it, both from a proactive, preventative approach, from a societal support approach, as well as if you need to, if you're in an episode and need to engage in care.

Burnout is not a psychiatric disease. It is a recognized work-related syndrome, but we have a seminar that's available on the basics of burnout, where we talk about that and the impact it has on workplaces.

Those are just a few of the examples,  of materials that's available. We're constantly creating more content. If you have specific requests for topics within mental health as it relates to science and research and academia, please let us know what those are so that we can make that cause we have a very active working group focused on content creation

Power abuse is another really big thing that involves some of the things that the UNESCO guidelines touch on for DEI and for mentorship career training. We've got talks and workshops on those as well.

Everything is going to be available either immediately or very shortly on our websites. So visit us either of those places to get access to those critical resources.

Another thing that we're actually approaching as well, just to plug it,  before it comes out is a new podcast series called "Dragonfly asks the experts". We are not a healthcare organization, but we interact with folks who are in the mental health space as clinicians and researchers. We are engaging them to answer some of the most commonly asked questions following our talks and our workshops.

The very first one in that series is a very short interview with Dr. Ray DePalo, who's got many decades of experience, seeing over 20,000 patients, he said as a psychiatrist over the years. He answers the question "When should I seek help? When should I start considering seeking help from a professional?"

And so that "Dragonfly asks",  will be out, very shortly and/or maybe when this podcast lands.


You just listened to an original interview here on the Open Update with Wendy Ingram.

What sticks with you right now? What insights came to mind and what resonated, but also what didn't you agree?

I've had some really nice voice messages throughout the last season. I would really appreciate you sending one. Plus by sending us a voice message, you'll take part in our lottery for a copy of the book, Ways of Being by our previous guest, James Bridle. If you include a way for us to get in touch with you in the voice message, you can win this book.

For now. Have a good rest of your day. Take it easy. Don't stress yourself out. Don't let the world get to you.

Next week. We'll be back with our interview with Monica Granados, where we'll talk about best practices on organizing for open and what we can do to build our capacity, to make meaningful change.

Written by
Chris Hartgerink
Researcher and director at Liberate Science.

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