Sometimes getting an education while struggling with a mental illness can be extremely difficult…but it’s never impossible. It can several years of trying and failing and that’s ok! I dropped out of university several times and changed programs even more! Every journey to getting an education is valid and has no timeline. I find that many people get discouraged if it takes them a little longer to earn their GED or get into college…but life doesn’t have a timeline and you are NOT a “failure” if you take a little longer because life isn’t a race or a competition. People who suffer from mental illness or mental health problems often have a lower functioning level than those who don’t, so the phrase “work twice as hard to get half as far” is extremely accurate.


I never went to high school, and I never got the chance to be in a regular schooling system as an adolescent. I’m 22-years-old  and this year is my first year of being in classes with other students since elementary school. Luckily, I had parents who were extremely supportive with my mental health journey and didn’t pressure me to get certain grades or finish things by certain times which in the long run helped me achieve higher grades and even receive several awards for academic success. When you give someone the chance to work at their own pace it’s amazing to see what they can accomplish. Today, I will share my Top 5 Tips To Help You Get Your GED (or any education goal)…

1. Throw out the timeline

Timelines in the education sector shouldn’t even exist and should be used more as a guideline than an actual deadline. I know it’s hard to be in school when you’re older than the other kids in your grade or classes. I am 4-5 years older than almost everyone in my classes at McMaster because I am a *supposed to be graduate* in my 1st academic year. My Dean asked to have a meeting with me last semester and when I went in she talked to me about how “mature” students have the ability to thrive in university but the problem they run into is that their life interrupts them. An 18-year-old college student will often be excited and energetic when they start their first year at college, everything is new, they just got out of high school and moved out of their parent’s house – it’s a party! But for people like me, who are older students, often don’t have the time to party and don’t have the same resources as the younger kids. Many of us struggle in our personal lives be it with money, family, or health so we don’t get the pleasure of being a kid in college…because we’re not.

I chose this first tip because once you are in the education system as a mature student it’s easier to recognize the other mature students going through the same thing and often migrate towards each other. The friends that I have made at McMaster are all mature students, I don’t avoid new students but because of our maturity, situations in life, and just where we are in our life’s journey, we tend to migrate to people that are like us. Throw out the timeline! Be proud of where you are in your journey, forget the “typical” high school or college experience and enjoy where you are because life isn’t a competition.


Amount of people diagnosed with a mental illness no longer in post-secondary schooling

3. Quality over quantity

Putting the two tips above I’ve formed the message that education is quality over quantity! If you have several years of education but you only understood 50% of what you learned due to the quantity of assignments and readings you performed then you lose around 50% of all material needed. You may pass every class but did you learn? Not only will you miss mandatory information but if you only half-ass it for most of your assignments due to the quantity (which is understandable at times) then you may lose opportunities that could have advanced your career. For example, my sister has her masters in Gerontology and she got the opportunity to publish some of her work due to the amazing quality. Overall, to succeed to the best of our ability opens up new opportunities so take your time and you might advance further than if you rushed!

I have a functioning ability of 60%, therefore, I have to work 40% harder to get the same grade as someone else who achieved it by just scraping by. 

2. Put your health first

Yup, this one is a big one. Put your frigging health FIRST! I know a lot of people say that education and making money is more important than anything…but if you don’t put your health first you will be sacrificing the quality of your work and your quality of life. Ignoring our personal health, be it mental or physical, we put ourselves at risk for enhancing the pain which can in return stop us from completing the task altogether. For example, if someone chooses to ignore their anxiety about going to a certain class it will simply get worse and could get to the point where they are afraid of going to all classes and soon school altogether. Forgetting your basic needs is dangerous and we need to remember we are people before we are employees.


Amount of students with mental health problems who had a crisis on campus

4. Ask for help from your school

There are so many opportunities for help in both high school and university. If you have a disability there are services at every school to help you manage your time, understand the material, help keep your life and education in balance, and some schools even offer therapy and medical services. Remember, depending on the severity you could qualify as someone with a disability if you suffer from mental illness. There are SO many services that you can take advantage of to help you get through life no matter your functioning level. Such as ODSP, accommodations, therapy services, day programs, hospitals, groups, assistants, therapy animals, medication, observation and so much more. If you think you are suffering from a mental illness that is hurting your functioning level please talk to a guidance counsellor at school or your general practitioner who will point you to all of these amazing services.

5. Routine, routine, routine!

Routine is such a big part of succeeding in our education and especially for those who suffer from mental illness. I never went to a high school but I was able to get my GED because of the routine I was given in the hospital. Every hour of my day was planned and I always made sure I had time to work on school and help get my education. Remember the second tip here, if you schedule education into your routine but one day you’re struggling to even get out of bed…relax. Your health comes first and sometimes that means taking a day off to relax and recover. Remember to add self-care int your routine which I always stress because it’s one (if not THE) of the most important coping skills mandatory to our wellbeing.

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