How to survive university with depression

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

The following advice can be applied to uni in person and online

This is for my fellow uni kids who suffer from the same illness I do: depression.

With depression, recovery is subjective. Sometimes, you need a complete break. But at other times going back to a routine might help with your healing. Instantly reverting back to a normal routine from resting might feel rather impossible though; which makes sense. You can't go from 0 to 100 right after a physical injury right? Same thing for mental illness. So don't beat yourself up if you're taking a while to get back on your feet. Whether you're going through your first diagnosis or a relapse, here are some things I've been doing that help me through my academics. Hopefully they can help you as well.

1. Get diagnosed

I know it can be scary to go get diagnosed. Most of us have this crippling fear of 'what if i don't have anything? Then what do i do?'. But trust me, if you're having these thoughts in the first place, you probably have something. Even if your symptoms aren't severe enough to qualify for a disorder, they can still be bad enough to affect your everyday life. A flu isn't as severe as cancer, but it can still make you feel like shit, right? Again, same thing with mental health. So, give your health the respect it deserves and go get checked. If it's too tough to go the doc's on your own, bring a friend with you.

P.S. if a doctor says "you're fine" when you're obviously not, go to another one. When I was 16, I was experiencing depression symptoms for the first time. But the GP told me I was "fine" and "everyone gets sad". I was not fine. I never wanted to get out of bed. I was losing weight. I was crying, puking and having panic attacks on the regular. But I told myself "if the GP said I'm fine, I'm fine." In reality he may have not understood mental health well enough or was avoiding more paperwork. I ended up suppressing my symptoms for 3 more years and my depression increased exponentially. I went straight to a psychiatrist after those 3 years and he diagnosed me with a "Major Depressive Disorder" straight away. He affirmed "I think you've suffered for a long time." and started me on my healing journey. So, if someone says you're fine when you're clearly not, go to someone else. Especially if the former doesn't specialize in mental health.

2. Get a medical report

One of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue which might render you unable to attend (online) classes everyday. For flexible attendance, your university will likely need a medical report. When formulating your report, your doctor will likely ask you further questions to make sure the it caters to your needs. And when they do so, do not sugarcoat. It only comes back to give you cavities.

You might feel guilty about low attendance and end up downplaying your symptoms. But forcing yourself to attend more classes too soon will likely exhaust you further. Hence, worsening your depression. The sooner you start taking care of yourself, the sooner you can get back in the game. So, be honest, get an accurate report and rest as much as needed. You'll be relieved you did so in the long run.

3. Register with the Disability Support Service if your school has one

Some universities provide extra academic support for disabled students/students going through hardship. They can provide you with assignment extensions, extra time/breaks during exams or even a change in assessment. If your school has such a service, I strongly urge you to register with them. You never know when your disorder might act up and having the support available can bring tremendous relief.

4. Let your tutors know

Some teachers are honestly downright amazing. I had a lecturer offer me 1-on-1 catch up classes even though it went against her contract to extend her hours. When such support was provided to me, I wanted to cry from happiness. She made me feel cared for when I felt flawed and undeserving.

So yes I do recommend letting some teachers know about your situation. Like the doctors, some will be amazing and some will be downright cunts. But trust that the right ones will come forward to support you.

5. Let at least one person from each class know for academic support

You should let at least one person from each of your classes know that you will need help catching up. Whether it's on content or exam info, It's good to have someone communicate this important info to you.

6. Have a circle of support for emotions

Have more than 1 person for emotional support. One person can't handle everything, so make sure your friends have each other to lean on as they support you.

7. Grades don't matter right now

Listen: you are so incredible. Trying to do uni (let alone online uni) during your recovery takes a lot of effort . Do your best to prioritize your well-being instead of grades. After all, the entire world is in shambles right now anyway. Who cares if you don't have a bunch of distinctions? They can come later, but YOU come first.