Should you leave college if you have depression?

Taking a leave of absence from college would depend on the severity of your symptoms and the level of impairment caused by the depression you are experiencing.

It is advisable for you to seek out a professional to assess your psychological situation and collaborate with the student counselor or dean of students for a possible leave of absence for you to cope and recover.

Depression is the most common mental health problem faced by college students which can negatively impact their relationships, academic performance, physical health, and wellbeing. 

If you are struggling with depression as a college student, the best way to cope is by seeking professional help and treatment on or off-campus, and engage in developing resilience. 

Depression in college students

A study conducted to assess the prevalence of depression in college students found that from a sample of 600 students, 53% were found to have symptoms related to depression from the beginning of their academic program with 9% having contemplated suicide at one point. 

Not only mental health issues related to depression are common but a review on student mental health found that the prevalence of various psychological problems related to stress, relationships, emotional regulation, anxiety was found to be between 2-50% at any given time on an international scale. 

It is safe to say that Depression and other psychological problems are a common issue faced by college students and that each individual who struggles with any mental health problem is not alone nor are they “abnormal”.

In fact, because of how common this disorder in college students is, there has been many young people who have been open about their stories and the struggle and their unique personal experiences of recovery.

To be able to cope with an issue such as depression one needs to understand what this particular psychological issue or disorder is.

What is depression?

According to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, edition 5, Depression is a mood disorder. The APA defines depression as;

a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act… cause feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

Depression comes along with various symptoms that must be accompanied by these feelings of sadness or loss of interest for at least two weeks for the issue to be diagnosed. 

The symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Increased fatigue
  • Slowed movements or speech which is observable by others
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Though these symptoms have been confirmed as the blueprint with which a professional can diagnose a patient, they do not manifest the same way in all individuals.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Depression in young adults looks more like irritability which is easily triggered and may affect relationships. They also tend to be more pessimistic, with a negative outlook on life, the world, and themselves and may tend to sleep more than usual.  

What causes Depression in college students?


College students face pressures, challenges, and anxieties related to their academic performance, goals, relationships, personal development, and career-building that can cause them to feel overwhelmed.

Common causes related to college are:

  • They are under immense pressure to maintain their grueling academics percentage as the world becomes more competitive. 
  • There is also the stress of maintaining an active social life- to achieve intimacy- both offline and online.
  • Having to juggle many extracurricular activities which demand perfection for their professional resumes.
  • Loss of support system from their family and friends since they would be living away from what they had previous known. 
  • Managing relationships and developing a sense of self during their young adult years amidst the demands of college life is also a stressor.
  • With the recent change of events, classes have moved online which has been reported to cause anxiety and depression related to uncertainty and isolation. 
  • Poor diet, irregular sleep schedules, and a lower amount of physical activity can also be related to a student’s declining mental health.

It is important to note that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors which make certain individuals more susceptible to the disorder than others. 

Brain chemistry and genetics can impact whether or not someone experiences a mental health disorder which is why some students are able to cope with college life stressors while others find it more challenging.

Taking a Mental health Leave of absence

If you find yourself struggling with any of the symptoms mentioned to the point that you find yourself unable to participate in your academics and find it challenging to meet the demands and execute the responsibilities of a student, it is perhaps the time to take a step back and take stock of your well-being. 

You can opt to take a leave of absence however, it would be wise to take this particular break with clear intent to take care of yourself.

Most colleges are prepared for scenarios where their students have to take leaves, so they should typically have policies regarding student leave however, leave related to mental health issues could be a debate depending on how the college prioritizes mental well being. 

Speaking to the student counselor or the Dean of students could be the best way to figure out these policies in a way that it does not overwhelm you. 

A few things you need to consider before you apply for a leave:

  • Procedural and financial information that may affect your re-enrollment.
  • Finding out the processes involved with the before, during, and after your Leave, as there may be important paperwork, deadlines, and conditions you must satisfy before you may return.
  • Discussing with your professors and counselor about how you can meet your academic requirements; this will require cooperation and collaboration between you and your teachers.
  • Make a formal plan. Get the paper works ready, get assessments done by a professional if required, and decide on a timeline to meet your academic deadlines, all of which should be discussed in collaboration with your student counselor. 

Another important option you can consider is in-campus or off-campus treatment which may involve you being a part-time student. 

To make a decision related to this option and before seeking out any professional help, it is vital that you speak with the student counsellor/ dean of students to work out the policies of the school. 

You have to remember that taking a leave of absence is for you to recuperate and regain energy, maybe even recovery from your depressive episode with the help of a professional. 

For the particular challenge of dealing with college policies, seeking professional help and assistance, working through your depression, it is advisable to seek out support. 

So reaching out to your family or a trusted friend or even a community support group should be one of the first steps to consider as you work towards well-being.

Ways to cope with depression in college

In the event that you find yourself struggling with depressive symptoms with or without the intent to take a leave of absence, here are some ways with which you can cope with these symptoms:

  • Engage in therapy

Psychotherapy and counseling is an effective way to deal with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Cognitive behaviour therapy has been found to be the most effective in treating depression and anxiety. 

Seeking out help in or off campus could be one of the first steps towards better mental health. 

  • Consider Medication

Medication prescribed by psychiatrists could be one way to treat your depression however research has found that the efficacy of prescription drugs for depression and anxiety increases when it is taken alongside therapy and counselling.

  • Seek out support

Support through friends or reaching out to family could be one way to build positive relationships which is a hallmark towards wellbeing. Other options include seeking out support groups.

  • Engage in mindfulness 

Activities such as exercising, meditation, yoga, or even taking a mindful walk could help bring positive emotions and joy. Being mindful of your capabilities can help you prioritse and manage time so that you have enough time to rest.

  • Eat well and Sleep well. 

Proper diet that is nutritious and healthy along with a good 7-8 hours of sleep can be beneficial for your physical and mental health.

  • Set healthy boundaries 

Between you and the people around you and also between your mental health and your own personal demands of yourself. Knowing how and when to take breaks despite the demands of your academics and social life can help you prioritize yourself and your mental health, giving you the rest you need. 

Frequently asked questions related to “Should you leave college if you have depression?”

Should I leave college for mental health?

You can consider a Leave of Absence if your symptoms and mental health is negatively affecting your ability to participate in academic and campus life. If you feel like your present mental health situation is intolerable even with the support around you, considering a leave to focus on treatment and recovery is advisable.

Does depression make you worse at college?

Depression might get worse if it isn’t treated. Untreated depression can lead to other mental and physical health issues and may impact performance at college. It is not only the symptoms themselves but the impact they have on the functioning of the student that can impact student performance. 

Do colleges care about depression?

In a recent survey of college students with a diagnosed mental health condition, 45% rated their college as being somewhere between supportive and very supportive while the rest of the sample rated that their campus’ support systems were less than ideal.

Do colleges accept people with mental illness?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, colleges and universities should not discriminate students on the basis of mental illness or any other physical disability. This goes the same for other countries as well. 

They must provide students with mental health illnesses necessary academic accommodations. Students must complete a disclosure process to access these accommodations, including providing documentation.

Can I keep my child off college because of mental health?

If it is absolutely necessary and advised by your child’s attending professional, taking a leave from college could be beneficial to your child’s well-being. 

You should inform the administration in advance of any medical appointments or planned treatment. 

If your child is unable to go to college because of a mental health condition, speaking to the student counsellor or dean of students, informing them of the condition and treatment in writing with necessary documents attached would be advisable.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!