Customer opinion | The Doctor is in: You Belong Here: Navigating Higher Education and Mental Illness

Higher education is difficult, but living with mental illness is more difficult.


Enrollment in college or university is the first step towards a life of continuing education, research and / or service. However, the experience poses many challenges regarding time management, stress, burnout, and impostor syndrome..

For students with a history of mental illness, the rigors of higher education can be exceptionally anxiety-provoking and overwhelming. Recent estimates show that graduate students are more than six times more likely to suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, compared to the general population.

Despite the frequency with which mental illness is common in graduate school, there remains a dearth of stories produced by students with chronic mental health issues. The following three tips have helped me prioritize my mental well-being in the stressful (but rewarding) environment of higher education:

Have a game plan

Gathering the tools to stay in recovery from mental illness is necessary before starting classes. Find a therapist / psychiatrist / care provider in the area or within your school with whom you connect well.

Think about how you are going to set aside time in your schedule for exercise, journaling, recreation, and other wellness activities. While I understand the reluctance, I recommend being open with your agenda about your chronic illness. During the pre-clinical years of medical school, it was easy for me to find time for my medical appointments, but it became more difficult when I was working in the hospital and rotating in various specialties.

Standing up for my own interests and what I needed from the start allowed me to make accommodations that fit my schedule. Prioritizing my health and being honest, vulnerable and unashamed invited my school to partner with me and support me on this journey.

Ground yourself in the present

Grounding yourself in your current life can motivate you to continue to prioritize what you need. Remember the blessings associated with pursuing higher education and your career goal.

It was probably a dream you worked extremely hard for. On difficult days, hold on to the blessings and be confident in the skills that have brought you to this point.

Give yourself credit

The current perception of mental illness limits individuals. I believe living with a mental illness proves to the world and to ourselves just how capable we are.

Living with mental illness is a full-time job that is psychologically exhausting. Managing a demanding course load while doing it is an incredible achievement. If anyone is in higher education, it’s you. Your experiences are extremely difficult in this environment, but know that the empathy and insight imparted to you on this recovery journey will have lasting impacts on the people you interact with.

Living with mental illness is exhausting. The idea of ​​staying recovering while balancing a higher education program may seem impossible, but with the right support and planning, you can thrive in both. Don’t underestimate your abilities and the difference you can make in the world by making your dream come true. You belong here.

Hotlines for crisis:

National Suicide Helpline: 1-800-273-8255

National Graduate Crisis Line: 877-427-3457

University of Iowa Consulting Services: 319-33-5-7294, [email protected]

-Stephanie Saey, third year UI medical student


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