Michael: How Depression Changes our Thinking
Here, Michael talks about how depression can change our thinking and our wider view of the world, including of what others think about us.
Student life tends to be hectic, with lots going on. If you are living in shared accommodation, it can be noisy, and difficult to avoid distraction from others. Likewise, if you are living on your own, feeling isolated or detached from others can also be problematic.
Problems with concentration will affect most students at one time or another, but depressed or anxious thinking habits set up a kind of internal ‘noise’ that can cause these problems to become intense or chronic. Take a look at the pages in the Making Changes and Self-Support for more information.
Very few students sail through their degrees without a few study problems. Addressing issues sooner rather than later is vital in order to prevent study problems from getting you down. If we are experiencing depression or anxiety, it can feel so much harder, with everyday tasks presenting real challenges. If it feels too much to get out of bed or have a shower, focusing on academic work can sometimes feel impossible.
There are things we can do to help support ourselves at this time.
Problems with the course
One of the commonest problems for students when they first start on a course is realising that it isn’t what they expected, or not suited to them in some way. Also, as people progress through their course, they may find it does not develop in the way they had hoped, or lose interest in their subject as time goes on. Depression and anxiety can also significantly contribute to people not enjoying, or engaging with, their studies.
Universities and colleges have an interest in students being on the right course for them, and will usually offer support in addressing problems of this nature. It is always important to speak with a Personal Tutor, or another member of staff in your department. We can often feel anxious about doing this, but people will usually find that approaching someone can be an important first step in dealing with problems.
Leaving things to the last minute…
Procrastination is another very common student issue, which can be closely linked with any or all of the other issues discussed on this page. It is also a very common part of the depression habit spiral – the more things get put off, the more overwhelming they seem. Procrastination is particularly linked to the depressed thinking habits of perfectionism, self-bullying and all-or-nothing thinking.
There are a number of things we can do to support ourselves in getting things done. Have a look at the Making Changes information on this site for some ideas.
Having to juggle a number of different demands can be extremely difficult; these might include study, work, family or other commitments, for example. Some university or college courses are quite structured, but many only specify a few lecture or seminar commitments a week while expecting students to organise much of their own study independently. Making the mistake of seeing non-lecture time as ‘free’ time can leave students feeling lost and aimless, making space for depression to flourish. Alternatively, rushing around from one thing to the next without proper rest can suddenly lead to a depressed ‘burnout’.
There are a number of things we can do to support ourselves managing the demands and expectations we encounter. Have a look at the Making Changes information on this site for some ideas.
Performance and exam anxiety
A little adrenaline helps performance, but over-worrying is a very good way to reduce efficiency and effectiveness. Depressed thinking habits and raised stress levels can get in the way of you doing your best in your studies. Getting your time management and concentration sorted is a good starting point. Use the study skills support and resources offered by your academic or student services department.
Planning and practical action
The most important first step for managing depression and anxiety is to focus on what you can practically do to support yourself. Basic planning and time management can help us feel more in control of things. There is a wealth of detailed advice provided by universities, colleges, and student organisations, for planning your student life effectively. Try these tips as a starting point:
- Get a good quality planner or diary with enough space to record all your commitments, or download from an app store a good quality ‘To-Do’ app and planner to use on your phone. These will often sync across to tablet and desktop computers too, meaning you have up-to-date information available across a number of sites.
- Use the planner to record all your study commitments and deadlines, as well as other appointments or social events.
- Take some time to plan out your week effectively, so that you assign realistic and achievable blocks of time to study, leisure, work, and exercise. This is especially important if your course involves a lot of independent study and fewer organised contact hours.
- Plan your time for assignments, so you are realistic about what might be involved. Again, talking to a tutor about this might help. Starting is the hardest part, so plan to just make a very small step as your starting point (getting a book out of the library, for example).
- Or if the writing part is what you find hard to start, then jot down some random thoughts and sentences straight away without thinking too hard about it – once you have something down on the page it is easier to shape a plan for going forward from there.
- Most universities will offer study skills courses or web resources. It is also worth talking to someone in your department as departmental-specific resources may be available. These can be helpful, particularly when depression and/or anxiety are sapping your resources. Sometimes putting basic strategies in place can help considerably.
Tell Your Course Tutor About Your Problems
It is very important to tell your tutors about any mental health problems you have, including depression and anxiety. Universities and colleges have a responsibility under law to ensure that students are appropriately supported and that, wherever possible, ‘reasonable adjustments’ can be made. Different institutions will do things slightly differently, but talk to your tutor and go to the Student Services centre (or equivalent in your institution) and explain the difficulties you are experiencing. They will treat your information confidentially and will talk to you about how you might be supported on your course. Support can include study skills, additional time in examinations or other deadlines, or more face to face support, for example.
What you will be offered will depend on your circumstances and what the institution has available. However, the important message here is to tell someone about what is happening.