How to study with a mental illness


Paige Atkison

Paige Atkison, Senior Digital Editor

Studying when in the throes of mental illness can be incredibly difficult. However, there are countless ways to adjust your studying style to suit your medical needs.


ADHD, both inattentive and hyperactive type is prevalent among 2 to 8 percent of college students. ADHD can cause symptoms such as a lack of focus, trouble concentrating, difficulty staying seated and having a hard time following through on projects. Making reminders on your phone and other devices to keep you on track is a good start. Next, consider breaking your studying into easily digestible chunks. Maintaining hours of focus can be incredibly trying for someone with ADHD, so utilizing study methods such as the Pomodoro technique can make retaining information much easier. Try studying for 20 minutes and taking five minutes to rest afterward, repeating this cycle four times.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by a myriad of symptoms, including depressed mood, diminished pleasure in all activities, and the slowing down of thought. The delay in thinking and an increase in fatigue can make it burdensome to maintain a rigorous school schedule. Like all other mental illnesses, you will need to find a way to work around your disorder in order to succeed academically. First, get help from your support system in any way you can. Find someone you can talk to openly and honestly about your illness and struggles. The temptation to isolate oneself while depressed can be tantalizing, but it is just the disorder talking. It can be scary to go outside or socialize but doing so will help you feel better and by extension, help you survive school. One technique to analyze your depression and figure out what adjustments need to be made in your student life is to start an activity log. Write down what you do each couple of hours to see how depression is impacting your life. Then track your difficulties with your studies as well. Consider making lists and doing things in small chunks to work around the fatigue that comes with depression. The Pomodoro technique also works well for people suffering from Major Depressive Disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a  mood disorder that affects an estimated 2.8 percent of adults in the United States alone. Bipolar Disorder involves two major mood states: mania (or hypomania) and depression. Those who suffer from this disorder can experience symptoms ranging from rapid speech and racing thoughts to severe depression and psychosis. Symptoms such as rapid thoughts and pressured speech can make studying nearly impossible. Paired with a lack of focus from mania or depression, preparing for exams or revision is quite a feat. The key to surviving school with bipolar disorder is to be proactive about your illness and attempt to prevent episodes. One important component of doing well in school while living with this illness is to take your medication regularly and follow your doctor’s advice. If you’re lucky enough to have access to treatment- take advantage of it. Following your treatment plan is the best step you can take to succeed in school. Apart from that, try to reach out when you start to struggle academically. Use your professors and family as a support system while you navigate your academic journey. 

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder can be found among 11.9 percent of college students. It is marked by a perpetual state of constant worry, an inability to relax or enjoy quiet time, and avoidance of stressful situations among other things. The best way to cope with anxiety during school is to start small. Utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools like thought journals or mindfulness practice to reduce your anxiety before studying. Like the other illnesses, it is best to study in increments.