Five Pointers for Taking a College Break for Mental Health

Anxiety, sadness, and suicide thoughts affect 40%, 45%, and 16% of college students in the United States, respectively.

These figures, from a survey done by the Healthy Minds Network last year, have increased by more than twice as much in the last ten years. Many students are thinking of skipping class to take care of their mental health, and experts say this is something that should be encouraged.

Even yet, navigating those waters may be frightening. Concerns regarding how to take a leave of absence, how it would affect their academic career, and their future aspirations may be present in the minds of students.

Here are some recommendations made by academic mental health experts.

What indications should I look for before taking a break for my mental health?

It is typical for college students to have mental health problems like sadness and anxiety while managing to perform in a classroom. It’s time to consider whether you should take a semester or two off to get mental health help, experts say, if those symptoms start to interfere with your day-to-day activities, such as your ability to attend classes and engage with the material, eat with friends in the dining hall, or participate in extracurricular and social activities.

It was formerly feared that students who took time off might not come back, according to Kimberly Blackshear, head of Duke University’s Time Away Office. As she put it, “We used to have this idea of a bootstrap mentality where you simply had to struggle and push through.”

She claimed, however, that this age values both their education and their mental wellness.

A medical leave, according to Blackshear, might be advantageous—and not just for a student’s health. It could really benefit their academic performance, she suggested. It might have a significant positive impact on their professional trajectory.

So, she remarked, “I really hope that we get away from the perception that medical leave implies crisis.” “Really, medical leave is about putting a student’s health first and giving them a chance for overall development.”

  • How do I begin?

Students who feel that taking a leave of absence is in their best interests should do so. However, you should first discuss it with a school counsellor, adviser, or other expert on campus who deals with such issues.

“You may have tried counselling. Do you require less course hours? Or perhaps moving would be beneficial? Exist any circumstances in which staying would make you feel better and help you succeed?” Nance Roy, chief clinical officer of the Jed Foundation, which collaborates with more than 400 schools and universities in the US to assess their mental health policies, programmes, and systems, stated that the foundation’s work is important.

The majority of the time, according to Roy, students still choose to take a leave of absence, but talking it through will help you make sure you are not acting hastily.

Find the appropriate campus contact for mental health leaves of absence once you’ve made up your mind; their information should be listed in the student handbook.

The Jed Foundation advises colleges and institutions to set up a one-stop shop where students can acquire information and then be ready for their time away, according to Roy. “By the time someone is prepared to take a leave, they are typically rather vulnerable. You don’t want them to be roaming the campus “She emphasised that she wanted their permission.

However, be aware that some schools do have many offices that students must attend.

Experts advise including a family member or other support person in the conversations with the school or getting a therapist to help you work through the steps necessary to take your leave because it can be a challenging time and some students may find it difficult to navigate the process on their own.

In any case, it is crucial that you comprehend the procedure for taking a leave of absence and returning.

  • How can I safeguard my own interests while on leave?

To safeguard their academic careers, financial interests, and to ensure a seamless transition back to campus, students must be aware of the medical leave policies and processes at their institution.

At the beginning of the school year, inquire about tuition insurance plans if you have a persistent mental or physical health issue. Victor Schwartz, senior assistant dean for wellness and student life at CUNY School of Medicine, noted that if you later need to take a leave of absence for a cause related to your physical or mental health, you might be eligible to get a considerable tuition reimbursement.

But many times problems appear out of nowhere. If that occurs, be sure to find out what is necessary for you to take a leave of absence, what you must complete during your absence to fulfil school requirements, and how long you can be on leave before you must reapply to the school.

Inquire about the status of your transcripts, student loans, scholarships, and tuition. Additionally, overseas students should take steps to prevent any potential visa issues. These difficulties can be resolved, but you need to be aware that they are ones that might arise and have an effect, according to Schwartz.

“There is frequently concern that the school may place unnecessary obstacles in the way of the student’s return. There are examples where that has happened, and you can find them online “said he. He claimed that in these situations, disability lawyers or organisations like the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law might represent students in disputes with the school. However, he added, “most deans and administrators sincerely want kids to do well and return to school.

How can I maximise that time spent away?

The first step for students should be to get the right help for their difficulties.

If you haven’t already, locate a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other treating physician and begin therapy, which includes taking any medications that are given for you. Blackshear stated that although she is aware of the vulnerability needed to make that decision, “kids actually need to be there, completely engaged in treatment and following the suggestions of their treatment professionals.”

She advises taking a break from the daily grind while you are receiving treatment, spending time with your support system, reading for enjoyment, and establishing a regular schedule for exercising, eating, and sleeping.

Add a productivity component once you’ve begun to see progress, Blackshear advised. Volunteer. Get a job as a part-timer or an intern. If your school allows it, you can test out of a class. It enables patients to put the skills they learned during treatment into practise in a setting other than their home, she explained. Then we can assess their situation to see whether we need to develop our talents more or change our course of treatment.

When they realise they can once again be productive, this boosts kids’ confidence. Blackshear added that their productivity “may help them prepare and transition back into the school setting.”

This action is also strongly advised by numerous colleges and universities. Before a student returns to school, Roy, an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, says that the school needs to verify that the student has been able to resume normal functioning. They might ask to see paperwork from the treating doctor or therapist outlining the diagnosis, the course of therapy, and the clinician’s assessment of the student’s potential for success upon returning to campus and in the classroom.

What is the healthiest way to start back at school?

Even after they return to college, some students might need to continue their treatment. So before returning to campus, choose a supplier at or near your school. In this manner, you may more easily reintegrate into campus life without having to search for one. When you return, there is a lot to figure out, and you don’t want to be scrambling to find a therapist at the same time, Roy said.

Then, while selecting your classes for that first semester, think about taking a lesser load. Avoid feeling as though you had to try to make up for the time you missed, experts advised.

Maintain a balanced schedule as well. “By balance, we refer to balancing our brain. We do not desire to enrol in four STEM courses. We do not desire to enrol in four English courses “explained Blackshear. We want to ensure that we have a balance where we are using both sides of our brain and we are balancing classes that have a different number of assignments so that we are not overburdened with work.

Continue to take care of yourself outside of class by maintaining healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping routines.

Use the coping mechanisms you learned during your break when difficulties return, as they may. If you require support, Roy advised “reengaging with either the clinician you previously visited or someone else.”

She said it was admirable that kids have the foresight to take care of their mental wellbeing.

In reality, Roy added, we want to spread the idea that students are smart for understanding the importance of their health: “No, you’re the smart ones for knowing that your health is vital.” However, Roy believes that students frequently feel like failures because they must take time off.

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