When students have mental health or substance abuse issues, they likely also struggle in school. Those struggles are compounded when they enter treatment, as they can fall even further behind academically. As someone who is supporting their mental health, how can you support their academic success without overwhelming them during this delicate time? How can you support them in making and achieving reasonable academic goals during and after treatment?
Learning to Prioritize Mental Health
In an academic world that has become increasingly competitive, students can easily lose sight of their priorities, in particular their mental health. The pressure from parents, teachers, schools, friends, colleges, career goals, and themselves can blind them to the fact that in seeking academic success, they have lost the thing they need most to achieve that: their mental health. Suicide becomes a real risk as well, and the pursuit of academic success should never cost a student their life.
As a mental health provider, your most important task may be helping them find their priorities again. Telling someone that they cannot achieve their dreams without their mental health is not enough. They need to truly become engaged with the concept and allow themselves to release their preconceived notions and expectations about their academic achievements. The irony is that by letting go of past ideals, they are free to step into their future and may achieve more than they ever expected because they prioritize their mental health first and foremost.
Reassessing Academic Goals
For students who had ambitious aspirations, like finishing a certain number of college credits by the end of their junior year in high school, for example, it can be difficult for them to realize that just finishing their junior year of high school at all might need to be the new goal. Reassessing academic goals can be very difficult.
Helping students inventory where they are academically, emotionally, and mentally, and then reassess what is realistic for them to attain under the circumstances can be challenging. Some students may feel defeated and be unmotivated. Others may feel unrealistic and overly motivated about what they may be able to accomplish, unaware of what the coming months and years of recovery may be like for them. While reassessing their goals, helping them to make realistic, reasonable goals will help them succeed.
Help Clients Make Reasonable Goals
Helping your client align their academic abilities, current mental health, current school status, and future academic goals may feel like performing the impossible. Somewhere in the middle of all of those factors, there are reasonable answers for your client.
Sometimes, the most helpful way out of what seems like an overwhelmingly large whole can be with small, short-term goals. Help them finish a unit or a class or a quarter or a semester. Then help them make goals to finish an entire year. Help them realize the classes that are truly necessary and important and which classes they do not need to be stressed out about completing.
Accessing Support From Teachers, School, and Family
Depending on the mental wellness of your client, you may need to advocate for support from teachers, school, and family in achieving their new academic goals. Many teachers will be more flexible when they are aware that the student is committed to improving academic performance, especially when they know that they have additional support at home and outside of school.
Schools and residential programs have programs to make up credits, have tutoring programs, and other academic assistance if you ask for help for your client. Getting the family involved in the academic success of their student can also make a difference in the success of the adolescent, even if it is simply to allow them to also reassess and make realistic expectations for their child.
Achieving Academic Goals One Day at a Time
Most importantly, continue to remind your client that Rome was not built in a day, and neither will their academic success come overnight. Just like everything else in recovery, academic goals are achieved one day at a time.
Regardless of setbacks in their mental wellness or their academic achievements, continue to remind them that each assignment completed, every quiz or test passed, every day of school completed is another step toward achieving their academic goals. While the student who aspires to receive a doctorate and is a year behind in school will likely feel overwhelmed at the prospect of their long-term academic goals, it will be the day-to-day work that will get them back on track and eventually allow them to achieve everything they want in life.
Supporting the academic success of students who are struggling due to addiction or mental health-related issues can be challenging. Most importantly, students need to learn to prioritize their mental health and reassess their academic goals. When they can access support and make realistic goals, and learn to measure them one day at a time, they will find success in life. Sustain Recovery is an extended residential program located in Irvine, California. We treat adolescent addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our program focuses on helping teens maintain their education through daily school studies, tutoring, and credit recovery programs. Our program is unique in that we have time to connect teens with support and help them transition back home to allow for a greater chance of success in recovery. Our tough-love program holds them accountable but lets them know they matter. Contact us at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is a good fit for your client.