By Patrick Bailey, www.patrickbaileys.com
Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide and mental health conditions.
As schools are reopening and a new academic year awaits. Are you looking for ways to make studying easier, as a student with a mental health condition? Below are some of the most effective strategies you can do to nail your exams and projects in the coming school year.
Studying in itself is difficult even with a neurotypical brain. We often see these stereotypes of students and their piles of books, cups of coffee, and sunken eyes in the middle of the night. At this point, you may already know how memorizing, preparing, and staying focused on academic requirements is much more challenging as a student with a mental health condition.
Read Amadine’s story about studying at her own pace here
A study in 2014 revealed that 33% of students in a given sample have mental health conditions. The most commonly diagnosed condition was anxiety, followed by major depressive disorder. Sadly, a follow-up report in 2016 also showed a jump in suicide rates among students, which increased to 8% from the initial 6%. The pressure of academic requirements along with the challenges students face with peer pressure and change of environment can worsen these mental health concerns.
Whether it’s something cognitive such as attention span issues, psychological disorders, addiction, or anything else in between, there are still many ways to make your studying endeavors much easier.
Take a look at these tips to see which ones could work for you as a student with a mental health condition.
Disclaimer: These tips are merely suggestions to boost your studying performance despite a diagnosed mental health condition. It should not be taken as medical advice. If you exhibit symptoms of a mental health disorder, addiction, or other related issues but are still undiagnosed, it is best to consult medical professional advice to get the suited treatment for your needs.
Study Strategies for Students with Mental Health Conditions
Short attention span tips
A short attention span is often related to Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). When someone with ADHD attempts to study, they may have difficulties dwelling on a topic, making it difficult to internalize and memorize concepts needed for an exam. Other mental health disorders related to cognition may cause short attention spans. Emotional disturbances can also make someone lose focus while studying. Here are some strategies that can help increase attention span:
- Exercise before studying
It seems non-related, but exercise actually increases blood circulation in the brain. Which gives you less brain fog and more ability to focus. It helps to have light to moderate exercise, shower, and proceed to study if you want to have a longer attention span.
- Avoid multitasking
Do you have upcoming projects and exams? Try your best not to multitask to avoid going back and forth and never completing anything. To improve your attention span in a single subject, list down your to-dos in the order of priority. After that, tackle one thing at a time.
- Chew gum
Short attention span is sometimes associated with wanting to do a movement break. Staying still can be difficult for someone with ADHD as they need physical stimulation. Chewing gum allows those with shorter attention spans to engage in a ‘movement activity’ while studying.
Do you have challenges retaining information either in your short or long-term memory? Simply practising memory games, crossword puzzles, reading, and doing other brain-related exercise tasks can improve or maintain both short-term memory and long-term memory. However, if you already have an upcoming exam or presentation that requires memorization, here are some helpful strategies:
Check out 5 tips for students with brain fog here
- Take notes manually
Do you have problems retaining information just by reading or listening? Perhaps you need to integrate the tactile-kinesthetic factor of storing and retrieving information. Taking notes by hand helps you focus on what you’re writing, giving you more opportunities to internalize the lessons.
- Use interesting associations
Another reason why some people have difficulties memorizing information is that the topic is not interesting for them. A great way to boost your memory for complex or boring topics is to use interesting associations. You can use the text in your book and sing it in a familiar tune. Similarly, you could think of a note-worthy image in your head when trying to memorize historical records or anything similar.
- Have an organized study space
The clutter you see in the environment can affect your ability to store information. For example, a great way to reduce the memory usage of unnecessary things is to have an organized study area. This way, you’ll be less distracted and stressed, giving you more mental space to think about your requirements.
Studying with an addiction problem can also be difficult especially when cravings and other physical symptoms become a distraction. To reduce cravings and addiction-related disturbances, you can:
- Prepare beforehand
Addiction is a progressing problem that needs to be addressed if you want to have a sustainable study life. Before the school year begins, you can sign up for drug and alcohol addiction rehab centers to be prepared for studying. Alternatively, there are also rehab programs available in some universities.
- Avoid the use of illicit study enhancers
Popular yet illicit study enhancers such as Adderall should be avoided especially if you have other types of addiction. These drugs can interact with your addiction of choice, which may present as dangerous physical effects.
- Eat foods for brain health
Brain foods are those rich with healthy types of fat as well as vitamins to encourage neuron growth. Some examples are fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
Emotional and psychological problems
It is not just cognitive issues that affect one’s ability to study. Likewise, there are also emotional and psychological disturbances that prevent a person from focusing on studying. Hallucinations, depressive episodes, and anxiety can often take its toll when trying to prepare for academic requirements. Here are some ideas that can help:
- Getting a planner to avoid anxiety and overwhelm
Being anxious can sometimes come from being overwhelmed with the tasks at hand. One way to avoid this is to get a planner where you can list down the things you need to do. It helps you keep track of pending requirements without adding mental load.
- Studying with a partner or in groups
Studying with someone also aids in psychological problems such as depression and other negative emotions. Some triggers of these issues are a result of isolation. Having a buddy to study with you provides a healthy distraction from psychological symptoms and other negative feelings compared to working alone.
- Study at the peak of medication effects
If you have a medication that prevents diagnosed symptoms of mental health issues, it is ideal to study at a time where the drug has its peak effects. When symptoms are temporarily dissipated, you can grab the opportunity to have focused study time.
Study Success With A Mental Health Condition: Identifying Roadblocks and Devising Strategies
The success of studying as a student with a mental health condition is by knowing your areas of weakness. Whether it’s attention, focus, getting rid of cravings, memory, or psychological distractions; remembering each tip per problem area can surely help you during your study sessions.
- Healthline.com – “Mental Health and College Students”.
- Bakadesuyo.com – “This Is How To Increase Your Attention Span: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience”.
- Studyingstyle.com – “Tactile-Kinesthetic Learners”.
- Apa.org – “The risks of social isolation”.
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Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Follow Patrick on Twitter or Linkedin