Mental Health or School: Setting Your Priorities Straight

Ever since I was little, my mom had instilled in me the importance of school. I love school, but I am like most other people for the closer it gets to breaks or long weekends or summer, the less I want to go. I always do, even if sitting through a few lectures feels like the least interesting thing I could be doing. School is so important, and I am working on finishing my undergraduate degree and applying to a teacher credential program. I love learning so much that I have decided to pursue my childhood “When I grow up I want to be” and if everything goes well, in a few years I will be an elementary school teacher.

Let me tell you this, even though I have a plan set up, does not mean it was always this way. In middle school I had no idea what I wanted to do, by high school I wanted to be a medical researcher, starting college my major was Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After a terrible first quarter (yep, quarter system) I was placed on academic probation and debating my ability to even go to college, just because I got in doesn’t mean I was cut out for it. Well, apparently I was cut out for college, just not that major. I spent the next year taking courses I needed to change my major and every quarter since I decided to switch, I have gotten As and Bs and raised my GPA.

In one of my classes, the TA got to give a lecture to the class and she gave us information about students with mental illness and their academic performance and I made me realize how much I have accomplished. The way she talked about mental illness and interacted with the class made me think of myself, and I know that my personality has been affected by my mental illness, so I feel that it is likely that her life had been affected by mental illness somehow.

This is what she had told us:

  • Positive emotions facilitate learning and negative emotions (depression, anxiety, stress) hinder learning.
  • Students who have a mental illness are more likely to…
    • miss class
    • perceive themselves as less competent
    • have trouble focusing
    • earn lower grades
    • drop out
  • Only 32% of students with mental illness go on to college.
  • Having two or more co-morbid disorders (ex. anxiety and depression) makes the person more likely to stop going to school before high school graduation.

What I took from this lecture is that I am fortunate that I am part of the 32%, but I have also fought to get here. I thank my mom for instilling the importance of school in me when I was so young because I started to show symptoms of anxiety and depression long before my diagnoses. Luckily, I have always been very curious and love to learn. Whenever I am out of school for more than two weeks, I start to miss the structure and learning opportunities that it provides to me.

Though I have never missed class or skipped a discussion session because it goes against every fiber of my being, I doubt my abilities whenever a challenge comes my way and sometimes my focus is nonexistent. I have debated dropping out, but I know that I have to try my best no matter how hard difficult it is. Part of learning is working on the difficult stuff until they become easy, and I have seen it pay off for me time and time again. My best may not always seem good enough at the time, but it seems that I continue to improve all the time. Seeing my hard work pay off is part of what keeps me going.

One thing that I underutilized when I first started college was tutoring. I have paid $600 for a tutor to help me pass calculus after I got a low D the first time, and ended up getting an A- the second time around. Not all tutors require you to pay though. When I took Statistics, I decided to utilize the free tutors they had on campus. When I got there, I noticed several of my classmates were there too. We would work on problems with the tutors and when the tutors weren’t there, we would help each other. Explain how to get the answers and work it out. The program we had to use for our online homework put different values for the same problem for different people, so we usually had to work it out on our own to get the right answer and for the program to give us credit. I hated that program, but it ended up really helping me understand the material and do well in the class.

Another good thing to have is the contact information for at least one classmate. Most classes will have something that is just not clear and being able to ask for help may be the only thing between you and a good grade. At my college, we tend to make Facebook groups for the class, that way anyone can ask questions and hopefully one of the other students can give them an answer. This does not mean that you couldn’t also go directly to the professor or TA, but it can be easier to ask a question that may seem stupid to your classmates than asking a professor or TA directly. If nobody can answer it, then the person who asked usually emails or talks to a TA and if many people had the same question they can update the Facebook thread with their original question and the correct answer.

I know that when my depression is bad, the last thing I want to do is go to school, but I have found that forcing myself to go to class can help to take my mind off the depressive thoughts sometimes. You never know when it will be a really awesome lecture, or guest lecture, or maybe you will watch a video. My thinking is that it never hurts to go to class because worst case scenario, you are still depressed, but best case scenario, something awesome or cool or slightly amusing happens and it makes you feel a little better, even if its just for a little bit. If I had stayed home, I know I just would have been marinating in my depression and that is never helpful.

My Tips For Doing Well in School While Struggling with Mental Illness:

  • Go to class
  • Try to make a friend in every class
  • Try your best to pay attention
  • Just try your best on assignments
  • Tutors are helpful, even if asking for help makes you feel embarrassed
  • Office hours can be helpful too
  • Believe in yourself
  • Have someone who can believe in you even when you can’t believe in yourself
  • Remember school is important
  • Sometimes it is okay to put your mental health before school, but you must find a balance between the two for one cannot always be the priority without affecting the other
  • Take a break from studying if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, stressing yourself out will not help you remember or understand
  • If you have testing anxiety, try to relax before exams instead of cramming
  • Give yourself time to study the night before or early on the day of the exam
  • Give yourself tiny rewards after finishing exams and turning in large projects as long as you tried your best, you deserve it
  • Having something to look forward to after finals provides motivation
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