Talking to professors about depression (5 tips)

In this article we will discuss steps you can take when talking to your professors about depression.

We will also discuss what are some of the things for you to remember and take note of when you are talking to your professors about depression as well as what are some of the things you can do to cope with depression in college. 

Talking to professors about depression: How to do it.

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Here are a few steps to follow if you want to talk to your professors about depression:

  • Step one: Email your professor 
  • Step two: Have a face to face appointment
  • Step three: Discuss what is happening to you
  • Step four: Discuss expectations
  • Step five: Discuss accommodations

Step one: Email your professor 

The first thing that you need to do if you want to talk to your professor about your mental health condition is to email them. 

It is important that you email them as soon as you can- maybe at the start of your term or as soon as you get a diagnosis and are in treatment. 

It is important to inform your professor before your mental health gets in the way of your academic responsibilities so that your teacher is also aware of what is happening on your end so that they can be more accommodating. 

The email can be a short one. Here is a sample provided by the NHS:

“Hi Professor, I’m in your Maths 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.”

In this email it is important that you are direct and it should also reflect your motivation to meet your responsibilities as your students albeit with a little more support from them. 

Try to avoid phrasing it like you are in need of special treatment, rather let your tone reflect a request to create a plan with your professors to help you stay on top of work in spite of your depression.

Step two: Set up a face to face appointment

Once your professor responds, it is likely that they will suggest a face to face conversation. 

If they don’t you should initiate a meeting with them with a follow up email as well or you can add it in the first mail. 

Make sure that you are able to adjust your schedule to his and prepare what you need to discuss during this conversation. 

Step three: Discuss what is happening to you

During the one to one conversation, it is important that you discuss what is happening to your mental health and how it is affecting your ability to manage your academic responsibilities. 

If you have any missed assignments, it is important that you let them know immediately. It is best that you talk to them during the first half of the semester so that you can make plans to make it up. 

It is also important that you let the professor know why you have missed classes if you have and explain that you were gone because of your mental health disorder and that it could happen again. 

It is important that you also make it clear that you might not be able to meet expectations such as participation and meeting deadlines because of depression. 

During the conversation, do not make up a story as to why you have missed classes or assignments- it is important to be honest and direct in your conversation. 

Step four: Discuss expectations

During this conversation it is important that you discuss expectations that the professor has of their students- like deadlines, workload, assignments, and participation etc. 

It is important that you clearly tell them what you can and cannot do at this point of time due to depression. However, it is also important that you clearly steal the theme that you can manage to do.

Make sure that you are attentive to what the professor tells you when it comes to their expectations of their students and what they are willing to let slide or accommodate. 

Step five: Discuss accommodations

The most important step of the conversation is to discuss what the professor can accommodate and what they are unable to accommodate. 

This means discussing a timeline for your handins that is good for both you and the professor. You have to understand that some professors cannot make accommodations due to restrictions, in these cases you will have to make accommodations or consider an alternative with your professors. 

Make sure that you are able to clearly specify what are the areas you find challenging and what you can do to make up your responsibilities in other areas or with more time and accommodations. 

Step six: Do your best 

Finally once the conversation is over, and accommodations have been made- do your best. 

Try to hand in your assignments and your work at the accommodate time and date. Don’t postpone work and try not to procrastinate- instead make efforts and strategies to manage your extended deadlines and to manage your responsibilities. 

Things to remember when talking to professors about depression

Here are a few things to remember when you are talking to your professors about depression:

  • Choose a private but casual environment such as while taking a walk, shooting hoops, or having a cup of coffee.
  • Remember that you can share as much or as little information as you want because there are no guidelines on what people have to know. 
  • If you are not ready to share a certain aspect about the condition, answer by saying “I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
  • Take accountability of your actions and your missed assignments etc. according to the MHA, you can 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?”
  • It is important that you email them as soon as you can- maybe at the start of your term or as soon as you get a diagnosis and are in treatment. 

It is important to inform your professor before your mental health gets in the way of your academic responsibilities so that your teacher is also aware of what is happening on your end so that they can be more accommodating. 

How to cope with depression in college?

Seek out  professional help

If you have been depressed for more than two weeks and it is impacting your other relationships and your professional life, we advise you to seek out professional help immediately.

You can consider seeking out support from on campus mental health professions as well as get referrals for a professional who is off campus.

Talking to a therapist and engaging with them to understand what is happening to you does not mean that you have failed in life. It simply means that you need help like everyone else and that does not make you any less of a person. 

Your therapist will help you understand what is happening to you, might prescribe you medication if needed, and can help you tap into your own strengths that can help you adapt to challenges, changes, and overcome them.

Inform your roomates

It is also important to inform your roommate about your condition as well as share your emergency contact with them or vice versa.

Being able to be transparent with people that you see regularly can ease the struggle of having to maintain your relationships with them when you have depression. 

Set boundaries and expectations with them such as chores, what can be done in the time of emergencies etc. so that there is a sense of support within your own living space. 

Be diligent with treatment

In order for you to have the best experience possible, it is important to take the time you need to focus on yourself and your mental health.

So if you get yourself in therapy, make sure that you take the suggestions of your therapist to try out the strategies they mentioned or do the homework they have given.

If you are on medication, make sure that you are honest with yourself as you take the doses instead of missing them or avoiding them. 

Be diligent with your sessions as well and be mindful of any resistance you might be feeling and take courage to discuss it with your therapist. 

Join a support group

One thing is for certain, you are not alone in your struggle with depression as a graduate school student. 

So, another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of grad students struggling with depression so that you can experience emotional support first hand within these communities and over time learn how to manage your challenges by learning from each other. 

By joining a group that is open, empathetic, and growing towards healing, you and your experiences can be an excellent sense of support to someone else who is also in their early part of their journey. 

Conclusion

In this article we will discuss steps you can take when talking to your professors about depression.

We will also discuss what are some of the things for you to remember and take note of when you are talking to your professors about depression as well as what are some of the things you can do to cope with depression in college. 

FAQ related to talking to professors about depression

When should I schedule an appointment with a professor?

It is important that you schedule an appointment with your professor during office hours. Professors usually tell you what their hours are when classes begin or you can approach them after class. 

Who to talk to if you are depressed in college?

You can consider reaching out to an on-campus counsellor or the dean of students as well if you are having a hard time with your mental health. You can also check the college websites for any information on student support and approach services listed. 

What to do if you missed assignments due to depression?

If you have any missed assignments, it is important that you let them know immediately. It is best that you talk to them during the first half of the semester so that you can make plans to make it up. 

Make sure that you are able to clearly specify what are the areas you find challenging and what you can do to make up your responsibilities in other areas or with more time and accommodations. 

References

Kate Romine. How to Talk to Professors about Personal Matters. Purdue. Retrieved on 18th April 2020. https://www.purdue.edu/caps/covid-19/talk-to-professors.html

How To Talk To Your Professor About Your Mental Health. MHA. Retrieved on 19th April 2022. https://mhanational.org/how-talk-your-professor-about-your-mental-health

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