Big Issues

Should You Tell Your Tutor If You’re Struggling With Your Mental Health?

We asked an expert.

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As uni students, we’re used to juggling multiple plates at the same time. A part-time job, a full-time course load, exams, assignments, hobbies, friends – as more and more commitments pile up, it’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed.

When we reach the point that it all becomes too much and our poor mental health gets in the way of our studies, is it appropriate to communicate this to our tutors and professors? We spoke to Dr Narelle Shadbolt from University of Sydney’s Sydney Medical School about how to approach the issue.

Your Tutors Are There To Support You

It’s easy for us to think of our professors as nothing more than super smart aliens who are really good at power points. But in reality, they’re human beings who want to see us learn and do our best in the course.

Dr Shadbolt agreed. “I think it’s generally very helpful for a tutor, a teacher, or an educator to understand the circumstances of the student,” she says. “I think that sometimes students feel that they may be somehow discriminated against or somehow a black mark is going to go against their name if they let people know that there are some issues affecting their studies. But generally, I think it’s quite the opposite.”

In other words, you’re not going to get in trouble or be treated like a leper because you’ve owned up to your struggles. “Actually people appreciate when people are taking responsibility and trying to work a way through the issues that are happening for them with the assistance of the faculty,” she says. “Essentially, the faculty is there to assist students.”

How Do You Go About It?

It’s natural to be nervous if you’re speaking about something so personal with your professor. Dr Shadbolt suggests to start by making an appointment and taking it from there.

“It’s generally not a great idea if you’re on a busy ward round or something and you’re confronted with something that needs more time and privacy to discuss,” she says. “Give somebody the heads-up as to what it might be about and then make an appropriate time so time, space and privacy can be made available for the student.”

If you’re still not comfortable bringing it up, there are other paths you can pursue. “The university always has avenues of support for the students,” Dr Shadbolt says. “The counselling service, CAPS, is a very good place for students to get advice as to how they are best to do these things if they’re worried and they don’t know the answer.”

Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is the University of Sydney’s free and confidential counselling service, but most unis have their own version. It’s worth having a look into what counselling service is available and how they can assist you.

What Will Happen?

Once you’ve had the conversation, you and your professor can figure out how to move forward. Dr Shadbolt stresses that no matter what mitigating circumstances are affecting the student – broken leg, poor mental health, etc – they still have to achieve the standard of the course.

“It’s not as if you’re going to be getting an easier exam or something like that,” she says. “But your preparation for that can be taken into account as to whether now is the best time to sit for that exam, or whether or not appropriate extensions or accommodations need to be made for students that need some additional support.”

Dealing With Mental Health As A Student

Dr Shadbolt encourages any student to be aware of how stress impacts their performance. “I think it’s very good for everybody to understand how stress affects them. Be alert to it, and try and understand when things are going beyond what’s able to be coped with,” she says.

“I think it is very good for everybody to understand how stress affects them.”

If it goes further than that, it’s a good idea to seek advice from your local GP. “If you are suffering from a mental illness, a diagnosed depression or anxiety or other mental illness, then I think that absolutely you need to take responsibility to ensure that you have appropriate help for that assistance – so a trained clinician.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.