Getting Academic Support When Depressed
Students often struggle with what to tell their professors or instructors when they are depressed and unable to complete their work. If you have a good relationship with your instructors, you may choose to tell them that you are depressed and getting help, and talk to them about how it has affected your schoolwork. They may be willing to give you extra time on assignments, or arrange for an "incomplete" in a course, when needed. If you are uncomfortable sharing this, you might consider disclosing that you have some personal or health issues.
If you have sought help, University Health Services may be able to provide documentation of your sessions, or, when appropriate, verify that you are ill without disclosing the nature of the problem. See the resource section at the end of this document for more information on academic adjustments. If you need to take time off from school, you might consider a personal withdrawal through your school or a medical withdrawal through the Tang Center. Again, see the resource section for more information. The Disabled Students Program (DSP) can be helpful in advocating for accommodations for students who have a documented diagnosis of depression.
The understanding, affection, and involvement of family and friends can play a vital role in assisting a depressed loved one. The following can help:
- Listen carefully, sensitively, and without judgment to the concerns and feelings of the depressed person. Allow and accept expression of feelings.
- Encourage the depressed person to continue to talk about his/her concerns
- Empathize: Genuinely communicate your understanding of the depressed person's concerns as he/she describes them, both in content and feeling.
- Take Seriously any remarks about suicide. A depressed person may experience hopelessness, which may lead to contemplating suicide. Report any remarks about suicide to the depressed person's therapist and/or consult with Counseling and Psychological Services at University Health Services.
- Respect Differences: Assume that different individuals will respond differently to depression. Be flexible and encourage support of one another in different ways.
- Offer Hope: Assist the depressed person to identify available alternatives, but refrain from evaluating, fixing, advising, criticizing, moralizing, correcting, offering glib assurance, or making a decision for the depressed person.
- Become Involved: Encourage a depressed loved one to seek professional help w/ a competent mental health care worker. On occasion, you may need to make an appointment and/or accompany him/her to his/her first appointment. Consider inviting the depressed person for outing, to the movies, for walks, and other physical and social activities.
- Be Available and Follow-Up: Continue to encourage the depressed loved one to stick with treatment and to practice the coping techniques and problem-solving skills he or she is learning through psychotherapy. Remain open to further discussions. Let them know you are available if they need you. Check back on the person's progress.
- Care for Yourself: Living with a depressed person can be very difficult and stressful on family members and friends. The pain of watching a loved one suffer from depression can bring about feelings of helplessness and loss. As you help a depressed loved one, your role is to provide support and to suggest other options when support is not enough. Remember your own limits and do not become more involved than your time and skill permits.
- Consult: If the issues are beyond your ability to help, you can
call and talk with a therapist at Counseling and Psychological Services
about how you can better help your friend or family member. Counselors
are available by phone during CPS office hours.
American Psychological Association--http://www.apa.org
CAPS at University of North Carolina--http://caps.unc.edu
National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH)--http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Faculty and staff are often in the position of noticing when students have a problem with depression. It can be confusing and overwhelming to experience a student in distress and faculty and staff are often unsure what to do. Here are some thoughts about how to identify students who need help, and actions you can take
Signs of Distress: Trust your intuition when you are concerned about a student. Here are some behaviors you might observe in a student who is depressed and needs help
- Student overwhelmed: everything is a problem
- Uncontrolled crying or other mood swings
- Concentration, memory problems, extreme difficulty with decision-making
- Sleeping impaired: too much or insomnia; eating problems
- Hopelessness about future
- Worthlessness, extremely low self-esteem
- No energy
- Debilitating anxiety or agitation; irritability-frequent arguments, physical acting-out
- Poor self-care
- Suicidality- references to their life being over soon
- Unexplained changes in behavior: grades, mood, social withdrawal, sexual acting-out
- Academic issues: not attending classes, missing assignments/exams, disruptions in class
- Unusual or alarming e-mails
What can you do?
- Express concern - don't be afraid to be direct and name the behaviors you have observed.
- Suggest and encourage counseling. Ask the student if s/he has thought about talking to a counselor. Explain how counseling might be helpful in providing an unbiased perspective and support from someone trained to deal with issues such as theirs. Normalize counseling-explain that many students see a counselor and the range of issues for which they seek help. Self-disclosure of your own help-seeking may be powerful for students. It's okay to express your limits-don't try to diagnose or do the counseling with the student.
- Explain how to use Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), which offers crisis counseling, brief counseling for personal, family, career concerns. Students can make an appointment by stopping by the CPS office. Appointments with counselors are usually within a few days. Students in crisis can see a counselor on an immediate, drop-in basis. Offer to walk the student down to CPS or to call from your office.
- Follow up with student. Due to confidentiality restrictions, CPS can't tell you whether a student has been seen at CPS. If you have concerns, consider setting up a follow-up meeting with the student to check in.
- If you are unsure whether a student needs help, or how to discuss counseling with a student, phone consultations with CPS counselors are available.
- Counseling Appointments
- Phone consultation with CPS counselor (for faculty and staff wanting to help a student), call 642-9494
- Academic Adjustments
- Medical Withdrawals
- Disabled Students Program (DSP)
- Also see:
- Online handouts
and College Students (pdf format)
- Depression and College Students (pdf format)