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Student life and mental health

Explains how you can look after your mental health as a student, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Support if you're in crisis

A crisis is any situation in which you feel you need urgent help. For example, you might feel in crisis if:

  • You're having suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • You're having thoughts about harming yourself or someone else
  • You've seriously hurt yourself

Everyone experiences a crisis in their own way. You might feel that your mental health has been steadily getting worse 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.

When you begin studying, your university or college might ask you to give details of a trusted person. This might be referred to as a ‘trusted contact’. This is someone they can contact if they’re worried about your mental health.

Take a look at our pages on crisis services for information on how to get help in a crisis.

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it's a mental health emergency.

Get emergency advice

Photo of man smiling

My experience of crisis care, depression and speaking out

It was as though the colour had been sucked out of my world.

Support on your course

If you do become unwell, it's important to explain the situation to your academic supervisor, tutor, or a welfare staff member. Do this as soon as possible. If it’s hard to do so, ask someone you trust to do this.

Even if you have previously explained that you have a mental health problem, your place of study 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 have extended deadlines or re-sit exams.

Take time out from your course

Each course is different in its approach to taking time off from studying. It may be possible to defer the course for a time. Or you could possibly repeat a term or a 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. Having support from a friend of family member can help during this time.

A few weeks after starting uni, I realised that my course wasn't right for 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 at Andrew's blog on the Student Minds website. You can hear what he 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

There are also informal adjustments it can make to support you to stay well. For example, you could ask that meetings are at a particular time of day when your energy levels are at their highest. Or that meetings take place in a location where you feel most able to concentrate.

The Student Minds blog has more examples of adjustments other students have found useful.

It may help to start by thinking about what you would need to make it easier to continue your studies.

Who can I talk to about my options?

It may be helpful to have a chat with someone impartial about your options. Even if it's just to get it clear in your own mind about what you think would help.

  • You could talk to your academic supervisor or tutor. They should be able to explain your university or college's policy for taking time out. You could also talk to them about how you could take a more flexible approach to your studies.
  • Your university or college's disability service can also support you around taking time out or taking a different approach to your studies.
  • Your Students' Union advice service or welfare office can also give you impartial advice.

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 such as:

  • 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 March 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References and bibliography available on request.

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