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Succeeding at study while mentally ill

Hi all! I'm currently in my fifth year of studying at university while living with mental illness and I wanted to make a thread where we could share some tips for succeeding at our respective unis/tafes/apprenticeships/schools/etc. I'll post mine below, please add on your own experience! Smiley Very Happy


1. Harness your strengths! For me, having lived experience of mental distress has made me more empathetic and passionate about justice and human rights. I can use these attributes to advocate for myself and others in my degree and to help me care about the people I work with, my patients. 


2. Connect with your disability service! My university has an amazing disability unit. They can help you make a plan (which teachers HAVE to follow) to get the accommodations that you need. They've helped me do things like get extra time in exams, get extensions on assignments when I was too unwell to complete them, and reschedule mandatory classes when I was in hospital. They can also help with clinical placements and any issues you have with lecturers or teachers. 


3. Plan how you're going to cope before you start! This semester I thought about how I would cope with stressful events (like a tutor yelling at me or having the urge to self harm) and wrote down what steps I should take. This helped me feel more confident (it also really impressed my psychologist Smiley Tongue


4. Talk to your teachers! In the past I've felt too anxious to tell my tutors about my needs, but this semester I went up to each of them at the end of the first class and explained that I was disabled and might need to take short breaks from class. I think that this will work out much better, because I'll avoid situations where my teachers don't know what's happening or how to deal when I dissociate or have a panic attack. 


5. Don't be ashamed of needing extra help! There's nothing wrong with needing support, whether it's from tutors, peers, or a counselling service. You have a right to an environment where you can succeed. 


6. Get things done early! There's been plenty of times when I was stuck in ED or an inpatient ward at the same time as a crucial assignment was due. Submitting assessments well before the due date is good because I don't need to worry about failing the unit for non-submission if I do have to go into hospital, or even if I'm just too depressed to write an assignment. 


7. Celebrate every little success! In one of my classes last week, I found myself struggling to breathe and started to cry. My tutor helped me leave the class (I was struggling to navigate the room) and I sat down, calmed myself down within a few minutes, then went back in to keep participating. I originally thought of this as me failing to cope but my psychologist helped me to see that actually, being able to calm myself down quickly and then return to class was a huge success for me! Reframing things makes a big difference. 


8. Figure out the best studying method for you! It took me four years to work out how I studied best, and it's different for everyone. I like to break things up by subject, sit at my desk, use written rather than audio lessons, listen to ambient music, and tackle one task at a time, then use quizlet to revise. I give myself rewards (like listening to a favourite song) after each task. Your method might be different! There's really endless ways of learning, it's pretty awesome. 


9. Use accessibility tools! There are heaps of programs and tools available to help. Most tablets and computers have accessibility settings where you can adjust the brightness level of your screen or have your device read words aloud to you or change the font/size of text. You can sometimes access written transcripts of online lectures or audio recordings of in person lectures. There are tools to help you read when you struggle with dyslexia, adhd, or concentration, like beeline reader (pro tip - comic sans is really easy to read if you struggle with attention!). Research what works for you or ask someone at your school/uni/tafe for advice. 


I hope these are helpful for people Smiley Happy Good luck with semester/trimester 1/terms 1 and 2. 




Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

Hey @DruidChild . This is such a great post and these are really awesome tips! I have finished studying but I would like to share some of the strategies that helped me get through. The mental illness that I struggled with was(is) Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic attacks and depression for a time. 


1. Meet with your university's counselor and plan out your semester in terms of mapping out when all your classes/lectures are, work schedule, sport and other curricular activities. Map out a time you're planning to go to bed and get up in the morning. Map in your best times of the day to study and have free time for self-care. 


2. Have regular catch ups with a counselor to go over how you are going. This can help get any stress off your chest. You can join your disability liason unit at your university with a referral which can get you classified as having a legit "disability" (WHICH IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF Smiley Very Happy ) and thus you can get extra time for assignments, exams and what not to help you manage your work load. I remember I was able to have my placements extended over more weeks where I could do 3 days a week rather than 5 days, which really helps to relieve pressure when you really need help coping. 


3. Find things you love doing outside of your studies. For me that is sport, reading, tv shows and movies and other exercise. Smiley Happy 


4. Remember why you began your course and ignite that passion that started you in the first place!


5. My favourite Harry Potter Quote - "Think of it this way. Every great witch or wizard started out as nothing more than what we are now. STUDENTS. If they can do it, why not us?"

If you ever feel like you are not good enough, remember that you are learning and training. You are not expected to be perfect or know everything at the beginning. If you did, there would be no reason to have the course in the first place!


These are all I can think of for now. I hope these help Smiley Happy 

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

@DruidChild this is thread is amazing! Thank you for creating it! I really like your tips!

For me I study online, I haven't studied on campus or face to face since about 2015, which I left the Diploma course at TAFE due to worsening mental health. For me, it works because I can go at my own pace and there's less pressure, but it can feel isolating as there aren't any classmates to bounce ideas or thoughts off... The other thing I like is I found that due dates have never really been set in stone for me, whether it was the course teachers or because they knew I was making progress that they didn't care... except now with the new system I keep getting emails when things are due and I'm behind schedule! Smiley Tongue haha but I'm working full time to learn the role and such and my teachers know this.

I find breaking things up helpful, so doing one thing at a time and taking it a little bit by little bit.
I find I am more calm and productive when I'm listening to some form of music if it's an easier task and I kinda know what I'm doing then familiar music is okay, but if it's intense, it's meditation music to help keep me calm and not distracted by lyrics Smiley Tongue

Remember you're amazing just as you are Heart

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

Thank you @Bee  Smiley Very Happy It sounds like you’re working really hard at keeping on top of things. Do you mind if I ask what you’re studying? Those are some awesome tips as well!! Best of luck with this semester, as well as with working full time, that must be a lot to do! Heart

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

@DruidChild I am working hard at work Smiley Tongue
I have put study on the back burner during the week and focus on work, but my weekends I try to do a little bit on my study Smiley Happy
I am still doing my cert 4 in accounting and bookkeeping (course changed the start of this year, was previously cert 4 in accounting)

It is a lot, I was able to have a chat to one of my teachers a couple weeks ago and she said that it's okay if I push my assessments around to what suits with work, and she said that if I needed more time before my enrollment expires that it wouldn't be an issue Smiley Happy

I think from memory your studying Nursing? Or something in the health field?

Remember you're amazing just as you are Heart

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

Thanks for sharing your strategies @mspaceK ! Smiley Very Happy I love that you’ve been so proactive about speaking to the counsellor and planning your semester out ahead of time!! And I really like that quotes, it’s very motivating. 

(P.S I’m sorry if it seemed like I was ignoring your post before! For some reason I wasn’t able to see it in the thread which was weird Smiley Frustrated


That’s super cool that you’ve chatted to your teacher and made time to study even though you’re working @Bee! Having to work full time atm must add on a heap of extra challenges. Accounting an bookkeeping sounds like a really interesting area, what drew you to it? Smiley Happy 

Yes! That’s right, I’m in my final year of a bachelor of nursing Smiley Very Happy

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

What an awesome thread @DruidChild! I think it is so important to acknowledge the impact that mental health difficulties can have in making studying more challenging - it adds an extra element of stress that a lot of other students don't have to face. I've always prided myself on being a motivated and conscientious student, so this topic is very close to my heart and is something I consider a lot in my own life. I absolutely love the ideas that have been shared so far, and agree with all of them. Here are a few of my own:


1. Make sure you are getting enough sleep: No student does there best work on limited sleep, and I find that when my OCD is severe, my sleep schedule is even more disrupted than usual. By getting into bed at the same time every night, removing screens from my bedroom, and eating well before bedtime, I make sure that when I sit down to study the next day, I'm bringing the most rested and prepared version of myself to the task. 


2. Make sure you eat properly: My sister's version of study snacks includes Red Bull and M&Ms, but I find that sugary foods and drinks give me an epic headache that makes the already challenging task of studying even harder. I try to eat (somewhat) healthily, as fruit and vegetables support more sustained energy output and I find myself able to focus for longer.


3. Take regular breaks: At times, I find I can study for hours and hours on end. Other days, I find staying focused for 15 minutes a challenge. I use the app Forest to set small time goals - if you exit the app to use other parts of your phone, the tree you have started growing dies. Once my tree is finished going, I take a short break, walk around, lay down, etc. and then gear up to go again. 


4. Write yourself an agenda: I find that if I break down exactly what I want to complete when I sit down to study, I tend to get less overwhelmed. I made sure that all of my goals are specific and measurable (e.g. I write "finish paragraph 1 of psychology report" rather than "write report") and make sure that none of my tasks exceed 30 minutes without being broken down further. Then, I tick off each task as I finish it, which gives me a great sense of achievement. 


5. Plan your days the night before: My psychologist mentioned to me that when most people plan their study schedule, they try to plan the whole week out at once, and then get frazzled when additional items get added to their to-do list and their plan is forced to change. Instead, I write a list of all the things I need to complete in a week, and block out spare time where I don't have to attend uni, work, etc. Then, I complete my actual study plan the night before, and pick specific tasks from the list that I intend to complete. It makes it a lot easier to be realistic, and keeps my timetable flexible so that I can fit in things like unexpected work shifts, or extra down time if I'm not feeling productive.


6. Don't be afraid to step away: If it isn't working, and you have been staring at a piece of paper for 30 minutes without writing a word, it's probably an indication that you aren't in the right headspace to complete any work, or at least that particular task. If your mental health symptoms or challenges are getting on top of you, don't be afraid to leave studying for a few hours, or even a day, because above all else, your wellbeing it the most important thing, and you are never going to produce your best work if YOU don't feel okay. 

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

Thank you so much for those awesome tips @queenP, it looks like you put a lot of effort into succeeding at uni even when things are really tough! That app sounds really useful, I'm going to go check it out! Smiley Happy I especially like your suggestion of planning your day out the night before, and I admire the thought you put into making sure you're eating and sleeping healthily, as I think that's something that I tend to overlook. 

Am I right in thinking you're studying psychology? Apologies if I've mixed you up with someone else! 

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

@DruidChild it does add on challenges but I'm working through them and just facing each day as it comes Smiley Happy
After my injury in 2015 and struggling to feel ready to return to work as a cashier/shelf filler, I was looking into what office type jobs I could do, I started with admin and thought I'd like it because I enjoyed the customer service part of my job at the supermarket, but it was so hard to get a job, after about 6months to a year I started to look into something more, and I found that TAFE online had a statement of attainment in accounting for free so I jumped at it and thought "why not?" I found it tricky and frustrating, but I loved it, the numbers, seeing how they changed and impacted each other, it was interesting. Once finishing it I knew I had to do more so debated between accounting and bookkeeping, and with the help of the prospective teachers I decided on accounting, and now the government has rolled the cert 4 accounting and cert 4 bookkeeping into one course instead of 2 because they are so similar.
Yay for my memory Smiley Tongue Whooop Whoop final year!
What drew you to nursing?

Remember you're amazing just as you are Heart

Re: Succeeding at study while mentally ill

That’s a very wise mentality to have @Bee Smiley Happy I think you’re a really strong and resilient person. How is your foot healing up by the way? 


That is so cool @Bee!! You must be really good at maths Smiley Very Happy What’s been your favourite thing you’ve studied so far? 


Yes! Smiley Tongue It was honestly the nurses that I had during my first stay in a psych ward, I had some awesome nurses who inspired me a lot! Plus a situation during that stay where I couldn’t find a nurse for one of the patients so I ended up trying to help take care of her and I just kind of went ‘huh I kinda want to do this for the rest of my life.’ Smiley LOL It’s slightly terrifying that I’m so close to graduating now.