September 4, 2017


My name is Rene Marke, I am a 4th year PhD student and board member of the SIOP-YI network.

I would like to welcome you to the SIOP YI Mental Health month.

Working in pediatric oncology can be very challenging and demanding for young oncologists and researchers. The scientific environment is getting more and more competitive. Difficulties in finding a proper live/work balance in times of expected 24/7 availability has lead to challenging work environments in all fields – pediatric oncology not being excluded.

Studies  PhD students have revealed that struggling with psychological distress due to high workload, publication pressure and resulting poor life/work balance is unfortunately not uncommon. A recent study indicates that approximately one-third of all PhD students are at risk of developing a common psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety, burnout or emotional exhaustion (Levecque et al., 2017). This study, despite being performed in a relatively small group of Belgian PhD students, brought the mental health of young academics into the spotlight again and restarted discussions in many countries about both the cause and the consequences of psychological distress amongst PhD students. The fact that the PhD promotion phase is demanding and challenging is of course nothing new, but the fact that performing your PhD studies is more and more associated with high levels of frustration and anxiety is a worrying development.

Similarly, a recent meta-analysis of distress in oncology doctors (Medisauskaite and Kamau., 2017) reported high levels of distress and high rates of burnout in the specialty. More than 12% of oncologists experienced depression and very worryingly 51% of junior oncologists screened positive for depression.  This review, which included 43 studies of both adult and pediatric oncologists, found that sleep deprivation is a common problem and that many experience physical symptoms of stress, such as gastric ulcers and headaches. Most concerning of all, problematic drinking and hypnotic drug use by oncologists were identified in this review.

Oncology can be a distressing specialty, whether you are an academic or a health care professional however, this undoubtedly is made worse by the stigmatization of mental health issues. Therefore, we have decided to dedicate the month of September to Mental Health Awareness amongst young Professionals in the field of Pediatric Oncology.

In the upcoming weeks, we will invite specialists to share their view on mental health and will discuss strategies to actively counteract signs of distress, depression and frustration. We are hoping to break with the stigma of mental health issues and raise awareness in our field, thereby encouraging young investigators to openly approach their supervisors and professionals when experiencing first signs of mental health issues. Vice versa, we hope to sensitize supervisors to be aware of mental health and candidly approach staff in case of first signs of mental health issues.

We are hoping to ignite a lively a discussion both between young investigators and senior SIOP members and share their views on mental health.


Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., Gisle, L., 2017. Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students, Research Policy 46 (4), 868-879

Medisauskaite, A., Kamau, C., 2017. Prevalence of oncologists in distress: systematic review and meta-analysis. Psycho-Oncology 10.1002/pon.4382

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