Mental health conditions

This resource offers tips, strategies and advice if you are studying with a mental health condition.

It is designed for students who have a condition such as:

  • anxiety-related disorders
  • eating disorders
  • personality disorders
  • psychoses
  • mood-related disorders
  • sleep-related disorders
  • substance-related conditions.

Strategies for successful study

Tertiary study is challenging and it is important to undertake a realistic study load. If you need ongoing support, you should consider discussing your needs with Student Equity and Disability Support, as we may be able to provide services to assist with your studies. You can maximise your chances of success by using the various services available to you and developing a range of study strategies.

Mental health conditions and medications can impact on study and you may find it useful to explain this to lecturers or tutors. For example:

  • poor concentration and memory
  • difficulty maintaining motivation
  • difficulty meeting deadlines
  • anxiety about exams and assessments
  • lower attendance
  • episodes of difficulties with communication and relating to others
  • difficulties structuring and writing essays
  • difficulties problem solving
  • poor organisation skills
  • difficulties managing stress.

Preparing for study

There are a number of options you can consider to help you prepare for study.

  • Talk to other students who have completed or are studying courses of interest.
  • Consider studying by stages, for example tertiary bridging or TAFE certificate courses which lead to a university degree.
  • Consider on-line subject delivery modes and assessment methods.
  • Contact a Student Equity Adviser before the course begins to discuss special arrangements including alternative format requirements.
  • Organise a quiet, interruption-free study zone.
  • Explore the available adaptive technology in the library or through Student Equity and Disability Support. Investigate funding for equipment.
  • Investigate software such as Endnote to simplify tasks like referencing, or Dragon and other voice recognition software for fatigue associated with writing.
  • Create a timetable to map out assessment tasks (commencement and due dates), exam dates and include any personal and medical requirements.
  • Establish routines and develop filing systems to manage your study needs.
  • Start assessment tasks early to have some contingency for periods of absence.
  • Plan for study using SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time frame.
  • Make arrangements for any alternative assessments through a Student Equity Adviser at least five weeks before exams.
  • Be aware of the side-effects of any medications and look at ways to overcome them.
  • If you need time off from your studies to manage your health, you must inform the University to maintain your place in the course. Check timelines for refunds or deferral (which may be negotiable) or request ‘Leave of Absence’ until able to confirm arrangements.
  • Maintain a life balance: the capacity to study is enhanced by self-care.
  • Be prepared for ups and downs during the study year and focus on the positives.

Study techniques and tips

  • Lectures and tutorials

    • Attend all lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions, especially the first ones when most of the important information is given about the course or subject.
    • Find out what was covered in any sessions you missed. Speak to your lecturer or tutor about downloading lectures and handouts.
    • Decide where to sit: there are fewer distractions and it is easier to see and hear close to the front, or sit next to an aisle or an exit door if breaks or movement are necessary.
    • If concentration is a problem, consider attending repeat lectures and ask lecturers for copies of notes or other materials.
    • Share notes with other students to check key points and fill any gaps.
    • Ask in tutorials for further explanation about anything missed or not understood.
    • Do preparatory reading for all of your lectures and tutorials.
    • Be fully prepared for tutorial presentations by practising and timing delivery, organising notes and highlighting key points, preparing questions to stimulate discussion and controlling nerves using breathing exercises.

  • Memory and concentration

      Mental health conditions may induce short term memory loss and disassociation. Some medications affect memory and concentration spans too.

    • Always have a notepad available to record useful comments or ideas.
    • Take frequent breaks and avoid information overload.
    • Effective memory is based on understanding material first.
    • Study in short intensive bursts rather than long periods of concentration.
    • Review material often.
    • Explore memory enhancement techniques such as Mind Tools.
    • Concept maps and software such as Inspiration can facilitate thinking and concentration.

  • Exams

    • Make arrangements for any alternative assessments through a Student Equity Adviser at least five weeks before exams.
    • Early and regular revision is the most important factor in exam preparation.
    • Select relevant material and gear revision to suit exam style. Seek explanations for anything not clearly understood.
    • Space study sessions and limit information intake.
    • Find different ways to understand, organise and remember material. Explore memory enhancement techniques such as Mind Tools.
    • Write down names, dates, formulas etc. at the start of an exam so as not to forget.
    • Follow up lost marks or lower-than-expected results with lecturers to improve future performance.

  • Dealing with stress

      You need to learn how to recognise stress factors and manage stress levels. Stress factors may include:

    • less flexible timelines or assessment
    • negative feedback or low marks
    • campus environment
    • absenteeism
    • pace of courses
    • social isolation and loneliness.
    • Some suggestions for managing stress include:

    • talk to a counsellor or a Student Equity Adviser about triggers and management techniques
    • find a space on campus to use as a quiet retreat
    • exercise regularly and practise relaxation techniques
    • cultivate friendships: join clubs and study groups
    • consider part-time or distance education
    • don’t quit if feeling overwhelmed or worn out: discuss options with a Student Equity Adviser or a course coordinator first
    • take time off when you are feeling especially vulnerable.

Information and resources

The University of Melbourne offers student support services as well as opportunities for extra-curricular and social activities. It is the student’s responsibility to make enquiries and follow up any issues.

  • Study adjustments

    You should initiate enquiries about study adjustments with a Student Equity Adviser before you begin your studies. Possible adjustments include:

    • flexible attendance requirements
    • extended course completion time
    • extended exam time, breaks or alternative location
    • provision of note-takers
    • additional subject tutoring
    • ongoing counselling
    • quiet retreat area
    • alternatives to group task requirements
    • assistance negotiating needs during fieldwork placements.

  • Discussing your condition

    Some strategies can be implemented without discussing your condition. However, to provide ongoing support and specific study adjustments, the University needs relevant information regarding your requirements. You can contact a Student Equity Adviser to discuss appropriate adjustments while maintaining confidentiality.

    Advantages of discussing a mental health condition include:

    • access to facilities and services including adjustments
    • better understanding from academic staff
    • greater emotional support
    • advocacy support or support for self-advocacy
    • appropriate staff responses in difficult situations.

  • Student rights

    Students with a disability have rights under the Disability Discrimination Act. Students who feel their needs are not being met should discuss this with their lecturers or a Student Equity Adviser. If dissatisfied, complaints may be first lodged through the University’s Complaints and Grievances procedure. If still dissatisfied, students can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.

  • Resources

    Online resources are very useful and easy to access. Stop 1 and library staff can suggest and help source study-related information and references.You may also refer lecturers and tutors to a Student Equity Adviser for further information and advice.

    For a list of peak bodies and support groups, please visit preparing for study and community organisations.

Adapted from the original publication (the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University collaboration) funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs under the Victorian Co-operative Projects for Higher Education Students with a Disability Committee, 1997. 
Written by Reem Al-Mahmoud, Patricia McLean, Elizabeth Powell, Janette Ryan. 
Revised version funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, 2009.