Is online school hurting your mental health? You aren't alone

Learn how to take a mental health semester

By Mia Werner | November 17, 2020 9:35pm
With tensions high due to COVID stress and academic pressures, it is increasingly important to check in with your mental health. Taking a break from school is an opportunity to take some time for yourself and ensure that you put your wellbeing first. Canva by Emma Sells

University lifestyle is stressful to begin with. College students have faced a growing epidemic of depression and anxiety for years, attributed to a perfect storm of circumstances — the loneliness of leaving home and searching for a support group, financial debt, the uptick of high risk behaviors like binge drinking and substance abuse, and feeling exorbitant amounts of pressure to not only survive but flourish in their classes, extracurriculars, and jobs. Factor in a global pandemic, the forced enrollment in Zoom university and an economy that’s wavering at the precipice of a recession, and this semester may be more than college students are willing to put themselves through. 

Students can feel overwhelmed with all the school work they have to do, especially when classes are completely online. Taking a semester off can help ease academic stress and give you time to take care of your mental health. Canva by Emma Sells

As we approach the end of the semester and begin to register for next spring’s classes, many students may be evaluating if they can handle another semester of online school. Taking care of your mental health should always come first, especially with the immense pressure that college students are under. 

Our society is quickly evolving to prioritize and protect mental health. You can find licensed and affordable counsellors in your area using PsychologyToday, and you can seek out other self-help options and lifestyle changes like exercise and mindfulness. But when the stressors posed by university lifestyle are quickly becoming too much to bear, the best choice to look after your mental health may be to take a semester off. The University offers two options for students to take a semester away: a Leave of Absence and a Medical Leave of Absence.

If you are considering taking a break from school, a Leave of Absence may be the right choice for you. This would allow you to take a semester off and return to campus the following semester, without having to re-apply to the University. This would also ensure that your financial aid remains the same when you return to campus. 

UP offers students the opportunity to take a traditional leave of absence as well was a medical leave of absence (MLOA). Taking a semester off can help ease academic stress and give students much needed time to take care of their mental health. Canva by Emma Sells

This option doesn’t require you to seek the approval of the University, but they will have to sign off on your paperwork.  If you want more information about taking a Leave of Absence, the Shepard Academic Resource Center and your individual college can provide guidance. The Leave of Absence form can be found here.

Another option is the Medical Leave of Absence (MLOA). This option is designed to allow students to seek any treatment they may need, whether it be for a physical or psychiatric condition, to accommodate students who are unable to complete the semester. It allows for a student to leave school for up to one year without financial or academic penalty. You can request a voluntary MLOA until you and your medical provider believe that you are able to return to school and achieve your academic goals. 

If you would like to make a request, you should reach out to the Associate Provost, who if they believe you are a good candidate, will direct you to meet with the director of the Health and Counseling Center (HCC). They can further explain the process of the MLOA to you and give you the Petition for Medical Leave of Absence. 

Once you’ve completed your petition and returned it to the HCC, they will submit a recommendation to the Office of the Associate Provost. Once returning to campus after your MLOA, the director of the HCC can provide individualized recommendations to help you succeed in academics and as a part of the University community. While the MLOA is more serious in most cases than a regular Leave of Absence, it is designed to help give students in crisis the ample time and help that they need to recover and reset. 

Taking a semester or a year off to take care of your mental and physical health is nothing to be ashamed of. The world we live in now demands so much of us and it's no wonder that so many students are feeling the pressure this year in particular. If you or someone you know is suffering, you may reach out to the Health and Counseling Center here, or contact a 24/7 Crisis Help Line by texting HOME to 741741 or calling 1-800-273-8255. 

Mia Werner is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at