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McLean Hospital Guides to Care

Student Guide to Mental Health Treatment

Helpful Information for Patients, Families, and Friends

You Are Not Alone

If you are dealing with unexpected sadness, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness, the most important thing for you to know is that you are not alone. We talk to students every day, from hundreds of colleges in the United States and beyond, who feel the way you feel. We help them to recognize that they do not have to go it alone—there is treatment, there is hope, and there are so many resources available to you.

What’s Going On?

Common issues college students face:

Whom Can I Ask for Help?

Colleges and universities have many available supports, on campus and off. We encourage you to consider using multiple sources of support, especially if you have been feeling bad for a month or more. Students tend to feel better more quickly when they allow themselves to access all the support that is available to them.

Managing Stigma

It is perfectly normal to have concerns about stigma related to mental illness. We know that undergraduate and graduate students have great fears about being treated unfairly because they have a mental illness or have been hospitalized. Unfortunately, stigma is common on college campuses. The key is to acknowledge its existence without letting it stand in the way of your recovery and education.

Compounding the effects of the illness itself are the potential life-denying, life-threatening aspects associated with stigma. There is the stigma propagated by society at large and there is the internalization of that stigma resulting in unrelenting self-abuse and self-hatred.– Steven Lappen, former vice president, Depression and Bipolar Support Association of Boston

There is good news. Many schools actively combat stigma by launching mental health ad campaigns, encouraging students to seek mental health support on campus, making those resources readily accessible to students, and teaching the campus community that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of your professors have dealt with similar issues in their own lives or with family members, and your school might even have a student organization dedicated to this very issue. In fact, these concerns are so prevalent that many colleges are implementing workshops that train students, faculty, and staff on how to support students in psychiatric crisis. Blaming someone for having a mental illness is like blaming someone for having epilepsy or diabetes. Similarly, ignoring these illnesses by failing to seek proper treatment can make things worse. Do not let ignorance be a barrier to your mental health!

Half of all students use their college or university counseling services at some time during their studies. Many students feel that their problems are either too mild (“I shouldn’t feel this way”) or too severe (“They will think I’m crazy”) to entrust to someone in counseling services. Take it from us: the school would rather help you be successful and healthy than leave you to navigate a mental health problem on your own. Let them help.

Having a mental illness DOES NOT mean:
You cannot accomplish your immediate and long-term aspirations in life. If you follow your treatment plan and develop healthy coping skills, you can accomplish your goals.

It DOES NOT mean:
You did something wrong. A mental illness is a biology-based brain disorder. It is not your fault.

It DOES NOT mean:
You will feel unstable forever. Although there are no cures for mental illness, there is hope for a meaningful recovery with treatment.

Having a mental illness DOES mean you will need to:

  • Learn your limits
  • Practice self-care
  • Be aware of your needs, including physical, mental, and emotional

Taking a Semester Off

No student welcomes the disruption caused by a psychiatric, or any other, hospitalization. The thought of not graduating “on time” can be very discouraging. Also, a college education is expensive; thus, tuition, work-study positions, graduate assistant jobs, and scholarships can all be (or feel) threatened by an academic leave. Some students are so fearful of not being able to pursue their academic goals that they forge ahead and return to campus before they are ready. Doing so can potentially undermine your health and long-term academic goals. This decision deserves your very thoughtful attention. A guiding approach should be this: “How can I attend to my mental health in a way that preserves my academic record and eases my return to campus?” Here are some questions you might have:

  • Girl with bookWhat are my school’s policies for leaves of absence?
  • What about my financial aid?
  • Is there tuition reimbursement?
  • Will I need to find a new roommate when I return?
  • Can I negotiate “incompletes” or “withdrawals” instead of failed grades due to my mental health challenges or crises?
  • Should I consider a reduced course load?
  • What can be done now to support my future success?

Creating Your Campus Support Team

Many students decide to take a leave of absence or semester off after experiencing a mental health crisis. You might think about creating your own campus support team to guide you through the process.

Make a checklist of people to talk to about taking a semester off and possible candidates for a campus team to support your return to school:

  • Dean or academic advisor (contact info)
  • Student disability services advisor or officer
  • Student health or counseling services
  • Resident advisor or head of house
  • Roommate and friends
  • Family
  • McLean case manager or college coach

Mapping Out an Effective Leave of Absence

Create a routine for yourself that includes:

  • Regular sleep
  • Time with people you care about
  • A safe place with limited stress

Remember: Your job is to get well, which can take time.

  • You are not giving up if you take time off
  • You are not lazy
  • You are not a bad student
  • You are allowing your brain to heal
In a recent survey, half of all college students said they had been so stressed that they couldn’t get their work done or enjoy social activities during the last semester. – halfofus.com

Ideas for taking time off to recuperate:

  • Work at a local shop/business with regular hours, or volunteer
  • Get a temporary job, allowing you to easily quit when you are ready to return to school
  • Join a writer’s group, music ensemble, or art club
  • Try yoga, t’ai chi, or another meditative practice
  • Join a gym and schedule time to go to exercise classes
  • Find a support group for people going through similar issues
  • Meet with a therapist or counselor on a regular basis
  • Find books or magazines that are enjoyable and may not be related to your coursework
  • Establish your personal campus support team (see Creating Your Campus Support Team above)
  • When you are ready, make a list of readmission deadlines and requirements