Considering taking time off from uni for mental health? If you have noticed that the pressures of academia and student life have started to take their toll on your mental health or your academic responsibilities are exacerbating pre-existing mental health problems, and you feel that you need to take a break from studying, always communicate your concerns as soon as possible.
If you don’t feel comfortable explaining your situation to your personal tutor or academic supervisor, speak to a student welfare staff member who will advise on available support services and options available to you. Alternatively, you can ask someone who you trust to have this conversation on your behalf or speak with the Students’ Union Advice service.
Your Options for Taking Time Out from Uni
Taking time off from uni for mental health is rarely an option students want to consider; however, there are instances where a reprieve from studying is necessary, especially if you have started having thoughts of hurting yourself or suicidal feelings or there has been an event in your personal life that has compromised your ability to cope.
If you only need a short-term break from university, it may be possible to extend your assignment deadlines or set up new informal studying arrangements. For students who require longer breaks, it may be a better option to defer your studying, which could mean repeating a term or year when you feel you are able to return.
As each course and circumstance is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the formalities of taking time off from uni for mental health. For example, the rules around study breaks may differ for undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students. Furthermore, some full-time courses will need to be completed within a certain time limit, whereas other courses may be discontinued by the university.
In most instances, your university will require a letter from your GP or another professional involved in psychiatric care explaining why you need a break or are unable to continue studying during this semester or academic year. You will also need to provide written confirmation of the reasons for your study break and how long you need the study break to be (initially).
Guidelines on Study Break Durations
f you require a long-term study break, you can typically request a six or twelve-month study break; however, your proposed return date must coincide with the start of a new semester or academic year.
In very exceptional circumstances, some universities can grant a two-year study break. However, this would only happen if a one-year study break was extended by another year towards the end of a 12-month absence.
Arranging Flexible Approaches to Your Studying
Even though contemplating the prospect of taking time away from university for your mental health may make you feel alone, it isn’t uncommon for students to require support to improve their mental health.
Many universities are happy to facilitate flexible approaches to studying, such as allocating more time for students to sit exams, extending assignment deadlines, or arranging part-time studying. In most instances, your course leader will be best placed to advise you on the options available to you.
The Potential Impacts of Taking a Break from Uni
At first glance, the implications of taking time away from your studying may seem severe; however, it is crucial to remember that your mental health should always be a priority, and retaking a whole term or year is a small price to pay for your recovery.
Impacts of Breaks on Your Course
Unfortunately, in most instances, it is not possible to simply pick up where you left off. For example, if you took a study break just before an assignment was due, it is likely that you won’t be able to return and submit your assignment – you will need to re-enrol and attend classes again.
If you have completed and passed some of the exams, projects or assignments before your study break, it is not possible to carry these forward when you return to retake the semester or year; you will need to retake the entire module.
How Study Breaks Impact Tuition Fees
You may also want to consider what will happen with your tuition fees, as there are fee liability points that are set for each academic year. Once the fee liability points have been passed a student is liable for a percentage of their tuition fees.
For example, for undergraduate students, there are 25%, 50% and 100% liability points in each academic year. If you take a break after the first liability point but before the second, you will be liable to pay 25% of your annual academic fees. If you are a postgraduate student, there are only 50% and 100% liability points, meaning that if you pass the 50% or 100% liability point, you will need to pay that percentage of your tuition fees.
Your university will be able to advise you of the liability points for each academic year, and you can consult the Student Money Advice and Rights Team for more support.
Should You Withdraw from Your Course or Ask for a Study Break?
If you are confident the course is right for you, in most cases, it is better to defer your studies instead of withdrawing from the course entirely. If you defer your studying, you won’t need to reapply for a place on the course, and you can work on your mental health knowing that you will be able to return to university and continue working towards your academic and professional goals.
However, if you feel as though providing your course leader with an estimated date of return is putting you under too much pressure, or you feel as though you would benefit from a change in academic direction or studying at a different campus, it may be better to withdraw from your course entirely.
Whichever decision you choose to make, always remember that your university will always want you to prioritise your mental health, and they will do their best to support you as much as possible during your recovery.