Explaining Your Mental Health to Psychological Counsellor

Psychological counsellor: Your psychological well-being affects every aspect of your life, including how well you do in class. If you are struggling with your mental health and you’d like to talk to your professor about it, set up an office hours appointment with them, ask if you can make up any missed assignments you may have, and keep checking in with your professor throughout the term. It may seem intimidating, but you can have an open and honest chat about mental health with your professor.

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Email your professor before the term starts if you know you may struggle. If your mental health has gotten in the way of a class before, you may know it could be an issue before it even happens. Loop your professor in before the term or semester starts and let them know why you might miss class or be late sometimes. Letting them know early will make your professor much more accommodating and willing to work with you.

  • Send a short email saying, “Hi Professor, I’m in your Math 200 class this term and I just wanted to let you know that I have been struggling with my mental health lately. This may cause me to miss 1 or 2 classes or be late on some assignments. I’d like to set up an office hours appointment with you to discuss my action plan for this class.”
  • Try not to sound like you are asking for special treatment. Instead, frame it as cluing your professor in.

Psychological counsellor

Talk to your professor as soon as you start missing assignments. Once you miss one assignment, it can snowball until your grade cannot be saved. If you notice that your mental health is causing you to fall behind in class, let your professor know right away why this is happening. Do not wait until you have a failing grade.

Tip: Try to talk to your professor in the beginning half of the term or semester. That way, you still have time to make up work or do extra credit if they allow you to.

Let your professor know why you’ve missed a class. Not all college classes take attendance, but some require you to be in class to get participation points. If you do miss a class because of your mental health, talk to your professor and explain that you were gone because of an illness, and that it may happen again. Professors will appreciate knowing that you didn’t skip their class out of laziness or boredom.

  • You may not be able to make up participation points that you missed during class.

    Psychological counsellor

Avoid lying or making up excuses. If you’ve missed a class or an assignment and you want to explain it to your professor, do not make something up or invent a family emergency. If you are considering making up a fake reason to excuse your behaviour, it is probably time to talk to your professor. Ask to meet with them about your missed class work.

Do your best to turn your work in on time, even if you’re struggling. In college, some professors may not accept late or extra credit work at all. Turn in any work that you can as close to the due date. Even if you only do half of an assignment, you can at least get partial credit.

  • You may get participation points for attending class. Try to go to as many classes as you can.

    Psychological counsellor

Make an office hours appointment with your professor. It will be much easier to talk to your professor about a sensitive subject if you are one-on-one with them and they have no distractions. Set up an appointment with them so that they are expecting you and there won’t be any other students around.

Tip: Most professors tell you their office hours at the beginning of the year. Check your class syllabus if you are unsure on how to make an appointment.

Share what you are comfortable disclosing. Your professor doesn’t need to know your entire mental health history if you are not comfortable telling it to them. Stick to the relevant facts that have led you to struggle in their class or fall behind on your course load. Referencing a decline in your mental health should be enough to get your message across.

  • For example, you could say, “I’ve been struggling with my mental health lately and I can tell it’s affecting my productivity in your class.”

    Psychological counsellor

Take accountability for your actions. Although it’s great to tell your professor why you’ve been struggling, try not to make excuses for yourself. Your professor will appreciate that you’ve told them why your classwork is declining, and they will also appreciate you acknowledging that it is your responsibility to make up for it.

  • Try saying, “My struggles with mental health have caused me to miss the last 3 classes, and this has knocked my grade down quite a bit. Is there any extra credit work or late assignment credit you could give me to make up for it?”

    Psychological counsellor

Ask about mental health resources available to you. Often, college campuses have resources available to students who are struggling with mental health. The counseling center, health center, or nonprofit mental health groups on your campus are usually free for students and willing to help you. Ask your professor if they know of any resources to prove to them that you are actively working on bettering your mental health.

  • Ask something like, “I know I need support to get through this. Do you know of any resources on campus that might be helpful to me?”
  • If you are having a mental health emergency or your life is in danger, contact emergency services.

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