Getting a Mental Health Diagnosis in CollegeMental health disorders can impact people of all ages, and the symptoms may begin at any point in life—including while the individual is in college. Unfortunately, receiving a mental health diagnosis can cause many young people to end their college experience prematurely. “A recent survey reports that 47 percent of adults living with schizophrenia drop out of college, compared to the 27 percent college dropout rate in the U.S. overall,” says a recent blog post from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Another study reports that students diagnosed with bipolar disorder are 70 percent more likely to drop out of college than students with no psychiatric diagnosis. To be sure, coping with a mental health disorder is challenging no matter what stage of life you’re in—but our message today is that coping is possible; treatment works, and recovery is attainable. You don’t have to accept your mental health disorder as a sign that it’s time to drop out of college.
The Role of the UniversityWhen a person receives a serious mental health diagnosis—for depression, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or whatever else—it’s important to surround that individual with love and support. There are things that colleges and universities can do to help, and to minimize the likelihood that the individual will feel it necessary to drop out of school. Some specifics:
- Stay in contact with the student and the student’s family—and encourage the student to remain in school, or to return to school as quickly as possible.
- Connect the student to a knowledgeable person on the disabilities staff.
- Let the student know about any counseling services you can provide.
The Role of the ParentsFrankly, not every college is going to do an exemplary job in supporting students through mental health crises. Even so, parents can still play a vital role. Some of the specific things they can do include:
- Operate under the assumption that the student will complete the degree program, but also be understanding if the load needs to be lightened a bit—fewer credits per semester, a longer path to graduation, etc.
- Ensure the proper clinical intervention; enlist mental healthcare professionals to provide treatment and to advise on how to continue forward on the academic path.
- Hopefully it won’t become necessary, but do make note that the college cannot discriminate against the student or kick him/her out on the basis of a mental health diagnosis, unless the individual falls below the accepted academic or behavioral standard.
The Role of the StudentFinally, we have a few words for the student who has received a mental health diagnosis.
- First and foremost, know that you are loved, and that there are a lot of people who want to support you and to ensure that you both get better, and also complete your degree. Don’t hesitate to lean on your friends and especially your family for support.
- Remember that, with treatment, mental health disorders can be managed, and lifelong recovery is attainable.
- Stay in contact with your therapist or medical caregiver, and also communicate to the college disabilities department what your special needs are.
- Adjust your path if you need to, but don’t give up! Even with a mental health disorder, you can complete your education and live a full life.