Rerouting course: Gap Year after all

It isn’t too late to get the most out of this year, even if college seems now like the wrong turn taken too early. Turns out you are not alone if half way through the semester you realize that it is not likely that you will finish this academic year successfully or, worse yet, in good mental health. How can you tell things are not looking good? If you are a parent you too should pay close attention to some warning signs:
• Diminishing attendance in classes, whether physical or mental, is the best indicator of you falling behind and being unable to keep up. Do you find yourself not going to more and more classes? Are you in the classroom but not feeling present and able to listen and understand what the teachers are talking about? Seek help and find out if you can correct the situation ASAP.
• Falling behind on papers due or exam preparation is a bottom-line measure of your performance. By the time you realize you are behind on papers for a few or all classes, it may be too late to regroup and catch up. If you are avoiding your teachers and your parents rather than talking with them about missing deadlines, that is a major warning sign that you need more serious advice and help.
• Anxiety and depression are the most common markers of a downhill course. Whether they are the reason or result of your increasing difficulty, they are undoubtedly a debilitating factor. Some students have coped with anxiety or depression before but in lesser volumes, while for others this is the first encounter with a situation where their body and mind take over in such a disempowering way. Know that help and relief are possible without resorting to substances. Sometimes talking with a therapist can be enough to get you through and slowly regroup. For others, a meaningful break and a more involved help are needed to regain a stronger sense of competency and self confidence.
• Self medication is a concept you might already be familiar with. Using prescription drugs, THC, or alcohol to feel better, “take the edge off”, detach, or feel more free to party, can be a slippery slope. Bit by bit you may realize it is taking away from your daily functioning. It is best to ask a mental health professional, a trusted adult or an objective friend (not friends who are using themselves) if they think you are abusing a substance.
If you and your parents have already realized that you may need to reconsider or withdraw from college, you have a few options to look into. Many students go back home thinking that maybe some work experience and even some therapy would help them regroup and refocus. Unfortunately, for many young adults, feeling like you failed college can be a devastating experience presenting real challenges in rebuilding self-confidence and a sense of competency. Furthermore, debilitating factors can be involved, such as depression and anxiety, substances, avoidance or lying as coping mechanisms. All these make the healing at home option seem more and more challenging.
Other, more intense alternatives can really change your life-course for the better in many ways. Going on a guided and supported new adventure can help you step away from bad habits and negative coping mechanisms and find new and more productive coping skills. In many such programs you can rebuild your sense of competency and achieve success in ways you forgot you could. Such experiences may include wilderness therapy and outward bound components, or more organized gap year programs dedicated to rebuilding your confidence and coping skills while experiencing new worlds and exciting adventures. It is not too late to reroute your course for the year and come out stronger and happier yet.
The author, Dr. Tamir Rotman, is one of the founding directors at Free Spirit Experience in Israel, a gap year program in Israel and Italy. FSE works with young adults on a full gap year track, but also loves helping out students who found themselves on the sidelines of the academic year. We offer real life experiences in a community based setting, while also experiencing exciting parts of Israel and Italy in ways that very few people get to experience. Working on social life, executive skills, emotion regulation, and career related experiences can jump start your adult life with a significant boost, right when you need it the most.