Dropping Out of University: Depression

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Written By Dr Shane McKeown

In this day and age, it has almost become the expectation that young adults enter into university level education. Many positives about university life, outside of the academic achievement made, are extolled to students by parents, teachers and the universities themselves. But what if it is not the right time for you to go to university? What if university simply not the right place for you at all?

The State of UK Mental Health

Going to university is not without its troubles and hurdles. For some moving away from their home and town is a less than ideal experience. For others university is not a healthy place, either physically, mentally or emotionally for one reason or another. There are many routes into university and indeed many routes into employment, unfortunately entry into university at 18 years old seems to be the ideal pushed forward by the school system.

The general mental health of the UK seems to be in decline, especially in the 18 to 35 bracket. Various different pressures on young people, from the negative impact of social media to financial pressures, and an unstable domestic political situation are leading to increased amounts of anxiety and depression.

University is one of the perfect breeding grounds for apps like Snapchat and Instagram to flourish. From freshers week onward people’s feeds are full of pictures of everyone else out having a great time. This can breed loneliness and isolation, and is one of the many issues brought forth by students speaking to university councillors. In fact, the number of students dropping out of university due to mental health concerns has more than tripled in recent years. The Higher Education Statistics Agency has revealed that in 2015 1180 students dropped out due to mental health issues, a 210% increase from 380 just five years earlier.

Norman Lamb who used to sit as the health minister, has stated publicly:

“There is a crisis on campus with respect to students mental health. Counselling provision should be a priority…but we know that these services are too often underfunded”

A survey of 26 universities revealed that most students seek help due to anxiety and this has risen by almost 50% in three years. There’s also been correlated increase of 50% those seeking help for depression. Unfortunately the Guardian has uncovered data showing that some universities are cutting back on the numbers of councillors, or simply not recruiting more staff to meet the demand.

Are you thinking of Dropping Out?

There are a number of reasons that you may want to stop your course or drop out of uni altogether. This could range from changing your mind about your desired career, not enjoying a particular course or even not finding the University the correct fit. Others may find that the maintenance loan provided by the government doesn’t really cover the costs of modern day living. You may however need to stop uni due to personal reasons, including poor mental health.

Dropping out the University due to depression or personal factors does not imply failure however. Poor mental health is an illness and you are unlikely to perform at your best if you are currently suffering with. Sometimes a break or change of direction is the best choice for you and your future career. If you are considering leaving university, or simply feel overwhelmed by everything there is one simple first step that everyone must do regardless of their situation.

Talk to someone about it.

The University Support Network

Students in the past may try and resolve issues by themselves even though they already feel like they are drowning. Many think that if they simply keep their head down and try to stick it out that they will make it to the end. Neither of these plans really take into account any desire to excel at your course. If you are already struggling trying to keep going on your own is unlikely to be the best plan going forward.

Depending on the issue you may want to talk to friends, family, your course tutors or a counsellor. This is an important first step is aside from direct help they may be able to think of will provide solutions that you have not thought of yourself. Although poor mental health always has many causes, at times they may be single issues such as finances or course compatibility, that breaks the camel’s back.

Having your support network help you with addressing these issues could put your mindset in a completely different perspective and allow you to continue on your course. Speaking to someone is of course not just important for making practical decisions, it is also vital that if you feel your mental health is deteriorating that someone is there to help you as soon as possible. University can be isolating at times, exacerbating the symptoms of anxiety and depression and speeding up their progression.

Studying the Wrong Course

If it is the course, teaching style or workload is identified as being your main concern, the simplest solution would be to transfer course but remain at the same university. This way you still live and study in familiar surroundings and stained proximity to any friends you may have made. First you need to speak to the head of your current degree programme and explain your situation. As well as explaining the negative impact the course is having on you, it is also good idea to explain how you think your new course choice will be different and in what way this will help you. Departments of course do not want to lose their students but will be understanding and supportive they are given a proper picture of what is going on.

While this should not be too much issue with finances, make sure you speak to student finance and let them know of any changes that are happening.

The Wrong University

Every style of university, both in location and teaching is different. Many students are attracted to the bright lights of London, but may realise on arriving they would rather be studying in a small campus university. You may realise that you have chosen the wrong course, and the alternative you wish to pursue is not offered by your current institution.

In any case it is wise to see out the year to ensure that you own your course credits. You’ll then be able to transfer these credits onto your new course once you begin. Although it is hard to time the sorts of things, do bear in mind that university clearing opens in mid-August and then closes in October. If you become aware in the spring or summer terms that you may want to change university this would be the time to do it.

Is University Worth It?: The Mental Health Perspective

It is understandable that attending university can be stressful and tiring at times. Moving from studying at school to the big leap that is undergraduate level is not an easy task. Feeling occasionally run down and overworked is very different however from experiencing day-to-day anxiety or depression. These mental health conditions can feed each other, and produce symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. Not the ideal state of mind for learning.

Those who suffer from anxiety can have their days consumed by obsessive thinking or ruminating, distracting them from important work and daily tasks. Those who suffer from depression on the other hand, feel a state of depletion and demotivation. Their brains are deprived of the basic functioning allowing us to find joy and contentment in our lives.

With mental pressures such as these, to be able to make the most of your time at university you need to tend to the source of your problems. This means that dropping out of university is not a cure all. Working with your GP or counsellor alongside family and friends, will help you decide if leaving university is the right thing for you and your mental well-being.

The Cost of Dropping Out of University

Once you have officially declared that you are withdrawing from the University you will have to sign an agreement confirming that fact. There will then be discussion of outstanding fees due to the institution. Remember that for the duration of the time the year at university you are already accumulating student loan debt. While the same rules apply in terms of repayment there may be ongoing costs such as rental contracts you may not be able to cancel at short notice.

Once you have left university and are settled, you are then faced with the prospect of finding employment. Despite being an obvious next move, amidst all the stress of university and deciding on whether to leave or not, this fact can be forgotten. Do you have a plan for your future that is at least in principle more appealing than continuing at university?

If you do not think ahead, you may find that all your old stresses and strains move with you and were not directly related or rooted in university life after all. Considering that the UCAS application process for university [internal link] takes a considerable amount of time and effort it is important to fix what you can while you are in attendance. Only after you have made reasonable efforts to change your situation for the better with the help of others should you consider removing yourself from university education.

Of course leaving university does not have to be permanent, and there are many other alternatives to entering employment. Apprenticeships, work experience placements, gap years or volunteering work are all valid options if you have mental health concerns that are getting in the way of your personal growth. You may find after a year out that your mental well-being has recurrent to the point that you are more ready to embark on degree level course.

Who can I talk to?

It is always best to let loved ones, family and friends know first that you are struggling, as they know you best and are at hand to give help. They also see you ‘behind-the-scenes’ as it were, and therefore are more likely to see when you are struggling to cope. As awareness of mental health grows, there is renewed focus on internal student welfare support groups which can help you through difficult times.

These include but are not limited to students union welfare officer, chaplaincy and faith support, university counsellors, support groups and more. It is important to realise that regardless of what you are feeling is very likely that someone else has been in a similar situation their experience may be able to help you.

Make sure to heed warning signs with your own emotions and behaviour which can alert you to needing outside help and support. Although it can feel embarrassing at times to talk about, by taking the initiative things are much more likely to turn around sooner rather than later.

We have said it before but make sure to try and think clearly about your next course of action. Will changing your course or university or even dropping out completely solve the issues you are currently experiencing? Why university experience can be intimidating for some, it is possible to find friendship that lies outside the usual high intensity, alcohol fuelled late nights out.

Signs you may be struggling to cope

For mental health does not only mean depression or anxiety, there are a whole host of potential issues that are possible. However, if you are someone you know is exhibiting the following symptoms may be a sign they need help.

  • feeling agitated most of the time
  • out of proportion tiredness
  • more removed than usual
  • restlessness
  • fluctuating emotions
  • losing interest things usually enjoyed
  • an inability to cope with day-to-day tasks
  • using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings

If you’re in the position of feeling that things are going from bad to worse but cannot bring yourself to speak to anyone close or in indeed any staff at university, call the Samaritans on 116 123 in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland. They are on the phone for free around the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you want immediate response it is always best to call, but if you would like to email write to [email protected]

Remember, you do not need to be feeling suicidal or at the extremes of emotion to seek help. Due to our hectic and busy lives and many sources of stress, anxiety and depression can build up insidiously in the background. By speaking to someone we can turn things around before day-to-day life begins to be affected. facebook twitter instagram Acrosophy Excellence in Application

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