Depression and A-Levels - not two words you’d expect to go hand in hand. And at first, for me, they definitely did not go well together. Why would they? It’s a disorder that creates lack of motivation paired with qualifications that need commitment. It’s definitely not an easy thing and, at first, the temptation to drop out and pick up my job full time was quite overwhelming.
So yes - it’s scary, and it seems daunting. That probably applies to other courses as well; GCSEs, mock exams, coursework subjects. But it’s not the end of the world. Off the bat, you’ll question how you can possibly deal with depression and academics, and it’s not something that everyone can work out. Some people might be able to come up with a plan and a step by step guide of how they’ll deal with the two.
I couldn’t do that - yet, I still pulled through. You’ll adjust, probably without even realising. It might take a month or two, maybe more, but before you realise, you’ll learn to juggle it. That doesn’t sound like a fun metaphor, I know, but refer back to the adjustment. I know it took me a little while to find a good balance between focusing on my depression and coping, and revision and homework.
I found that writing down to do lists was almost essential - prioritizing the most important stuff, and making sure it’s done. Keeping your workload to the bare minimum may sound as though it won’t get much done, but do only the essentials. Extra credit is important, but your main focus should be core homework and classwork. It looks better to have good grades on your everyday work, than bad grades on them as well as extra credit stuff. If you feel ready to do extra work, then by all means do but not unless you’re completely certain.
With that said, you might find it easy to detach from college and A-Levels, and you might feel dropping out is the best decision for you. College, at the end of the day, isn’t everything and you have plenty of other options. A part-time job or apprenticeship that doesn’t require revision or coursework is a perfectly good option. Some apprenticeships even pay. Equally, online courses can be very helpful. My mother, for example, got a psychology degree via the Open University and is now a lecturer at a college. Alternatively, if you have family members or friends who work in a career you’re interested in, talking to them may be hugely helpful.
If college is the only route for you to go down, most places will have a counsellor or some kind of support system for students who need extra help. For example, my college has drop in sessions or assigned weekly ones, where they can discuss coping methods and techniques. Obviously, each college will be different but it’s a requirement that colleges have some kind of help system and it’s definitely worth checking out the options.
If not, you could look at other options too. Friends can be an amazing support system; getting them to help you, or remind you of work can help you get stuff done. I also find that studying in groups is super helpful, because you can motivate one another. Some subjects may offer study groups teach, like once a week during lunch.
College stereotypically lasts two years, but there is also the option for staying on for three or four if one year is particularly rough. Most colleges and sixth forms either have an age limit of around 20, whilst others may not have one at all. This means you can resit a year, or start again entirely. No teacher or college employee would judge you for staying on for extra time - if anything, they’ll admire you for persistently trying.
However, if you do choose to stay in college, there are ways to find a balance. I found that getting as much work as possible done when I was feeling okay and motivated really minimised the workload for the bad days. Rewards are also a good way of motivating yourself (I covered this in article titled Keeping A Good Work Ethic - it’s one of my earlier articles but it pretty much covers the whole how to do work when you’re feeling crap thing).
Lastly, and probably most importantly - your health comes first. Don’t overwork yourself on bad days, and even the good days. It can result in tiredness, headaches and irritation that definitely do not coincide well with the things that depression brings. I let my college know that I’d been diagnosed, and although my teachers don’t give me special treatment, they understand the situation. You don’t have to open up, but making them aware can adjust the environment around to make it an overall, more supportive place for when you feel bad.
If you’re not comfortable talking to your teachers, there’s also the option to email them. I didn’t feel comfortable telling them directly, so I spoke to my tutor, who passed on the messages. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to any teachers or tutors full stop, you can also get your parents to call them, or your doctor to write a letter.
To conclude; explore other options, and understand that it’s new circumstances for everyone. Without sounding blunt - your teachers aren’t going to know about your situation unless you tell them. It might not be easy to tell them, but it’s important that you find a way you’re comfortable with. When people around you know what’s going on, they can support you. It’s not a solution to depression, but it’s tiny little things like that that can help you.
The patience and understanding of the people around you can feel like a godsend when things are tough. It doesn’t mean that my teachers are a shoulder to cry on, but a simple extension on homework or a ‘well done’ when you’re in a depressive episode can be the tiny little bits of motivation that can, in the end, help you pull through.
Many of us at TWE have dealt with depression or other mental health related struggles during school and college. We have an education section on the website with school and exam articles that may have other useful information, or if you want a more immediate and direct response, you can contact us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or via email.