If you become unwell, there are lots of options you can consider. This page covers:
See our pages on support for students and seeking help for your mental health, for more information about getting help for your mental health.
Who can I talk to about my options?
It may be helpful to have a chat with someone impartial about your options, even if just to help get it clear in your own mind about what you think would help.
- Your academic supervisor or tutor should be able to help you to understand your university or college's policy for taking time out and to consider how you could take a more flexible approach to your studies.
- Your Students' Union advice service or welfare office can provide impartial advice.
- Your university or college's disability service can support you to think about taking time out or taking a more flexible approach to your studies.
Support if you are in a crisis
A crisis is any situation in which you feel you need urgent help. For example, you might feel in crisis if:
- you are having suicidal thoughts and feelings
- you are having thoughts about harming yourself or someone else
- you have seriously hurt yourself.
Everyone experiences a crisis in their own way. You might feel that your mental health has been steadily deteriorating for some time, or perhaps something's happened in your life that's shaken your stability.
You might have a good idea what's likely to trigger a crisis for you, or you might not know what's causing your feelings. But whatever your situation, if you start to feel unable to cope, or to keep yourself safe, it's important to ask for help.
Take a look at our pages on crisis services for information on how to get help in a crisis.
And have a read here of Karl's experience of crisis care and his time in a psychiatric hospital.
Suicidal feelings can range from being preoccupied by abstract thoughts about ending your life, or feeling that people would be better off without you, to thinking about methods of suicide, or making clear plans to take your own life.
If you are feeling suicidal, you might be scared or confused by these feelings. But you are not alone. Many people think about suicide at some point in their lifetime.
There are steps you can take right now to stop yourself from acting on your suicidal thoughts. Everyone is different, so it's about finding what works best for you.
Take a look at our pages on suicidal feelings for practical tips that others have found helpful in managing suicidal feelings.
If you are worried about someone else you may find it useful to take a look at our pages on supporting someone who feels suicidal.
Support on your course
If you do become unwell, it's important for you (or someone you trust) to explain the situation to your academic supervisor, tutor, or a welfare staff member, as soon as possible. Even if you have previously explained that you have a mental health problem, they may not be aware that you're feeling worse. The sooner you let them know, the easier it is for them to help you get support with your academic work.
You may be able to:
- receive special dispensation when your work is marked
- extend deadlines
- re-sit exams.
There are also informal adjustments that can be made to support you in staying well. For example requesting that meetings are at a particular time of day that suits when your energy levels are at their highest, or in a particular location where you feel most able to concentrate.
For more ideas about the kinds of adjustments other students have found useful, take a look at the Student Minds blog.
Take time out from your course
Each course is different in the way it approaches taking time off from studying. It may be possible to:
- defer the course for a time
- repeat a term or year.
Your university or college may need a letter from your doctor to explain how your mental health is affecting your studies. The process can sometimes be daunting so having support from a friend of family member can really help during this time.
A few weeks after starting uni, I realised that my course wasn’t for right me. I hated the city, felt like a failure and struggled with my mental health. I decided to drop out and transfer to a different one. When I started at the right uni and course everything changed. My mental health improved, I made friends, and now I’m in a career linked to the degree I loved.
Take a look here to hear what Andrew learnt from taking leave from his studies.
Taking a flexible approach to studying
Your university might be able to make adjustments to how you study. For example, you may be able to:
- complete your degree part-time
- have longer deadlines for coursework
- get more time in exams.
It may help to start by thinking about what you would need to make it easier to continue your studies.
Thinking about alternatives
You might feel that continuing your course isn't right for you, and that's okay. It could be useful to think about some alternatives:
- trying a different course or location
- studying a vocational course or apprenticeship
- taking a gap year
- starting work or re-starting work.
Not Going To Uni has advice and information about alternatives to university.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between university and your mental health treatment, my advice would be to choose mental health treatment. It's more important. You can always pick up where you left off with studying, but you can't really do that with your health because the longer you leave it, the harder it becomes to treat.
This information was published in September 2018. We will revise it in 2021.