The Weak Link
April 12, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

How should I explain to my classmates that I can't finish my portion of our group project due to mental health issues, without disclosing the fact that I have these issues?

I am a female, late 20s, university undergrad student and I suffer from depression and anxiety. In the past two weeks my mental health has gotten bad enough that I have been unable to go to school or do any schoolwork. Unfortunately, one of my assignments is a group project, and I feel terrible that I'm letting the group down. They have no idea about my problem, and I do not wish to disclose any details about it to them. I'm trying to compose an email to explain that I can't complete my part of the assignment, but I'm at a loss as to what to say.

Should I just tell them a personal matter is preventing me from doing it? Should I contact the prof about this? I already missed the final exam so I'm sure they will be wondering what is up.

Relevant information: I am not on medication and I have a counseling appointment next week to deal with my issues.

Thanks in advance for your time and advice. If necessary, you can send me a message at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tell them you're sick. You are and that's all they need to know.
posted by fshgrl at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yup, tell your classmates you're dealing with a medical issue. If they probe for details, just say it's personal.

If you're worried about a failure or lousy mark showing up on your transcript, speak to your prof or department chair. It might be possible to get a retroactive medical withdrawal from the course.
posted by bethnull at 5:54 PM on April 12, 2012

Should I contact the prof about this?

Yes, definitely! You might be able to get a medical incomplete, and this way you can also say, "I am sick, I could not do my work for the group project, please don't hold it against my group members."

I would also suggest speaking to your school's disability services office and seeing if they can help you arrange the incompletes, access treatment faster, etc.

If you need a template, I would start with your email to disability services. "Hi, my name is X and I'm a student in X part of the university. I am currently suffering from a medical problem that is preventing me from completing my coursework for this semester, and I would like to arrange to take a medical incomplete in my classes. Can your office help me arrange that, or direct me to the right office on campus to work with?"

Then email your professor: "Hi, Professor X, I'm sure you noticed that I missed our final exam on date. I'm very sorry about that. I am currently suffering from a medical problem that is preventing me from completing my coursework for this semester, and I would like to arrange to take a medical incomplete in your class. I am working with my doctor and disability services to resolve this issue, and am happy to provide you with any documentation you might need. I have also been unable to complete my work for Group Project, and I wanted to make sure you knew what was happening so that my groupmates' grades do not suffer. Thank you so much for your help with this."

Then email your classmates: "Hi, guys, I'm so sorry I haven't been keeping up with my work on Project. I am having some unexpected medical issues that are preventing me from finishing up my work. I've emailed Professor X to let her know about this, and I am happy to forward you all the materials I have been using (if that's applicable.). Best of luck finishing everything else up."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:57 PM on April 12, 2012 [24 favorites]

I would talk to the professor first, since your teacher is the one that matters in this situation. Tell him/her that you're struggling with some serious health issues right now, and how should you proceed from here? Be upfront about what you're capable of doing right now so you can come to a real workable solution. You might want to contact your university's counseling center (or resources for disabled students or equivalent) to see if you can hook up with an advocate. This is something schools handle all the time, so there's almost certainly a mechanism in place already to resolve situations like this.

Once you've initiated that conversation/email with the professor, then I would email your group members. I'd word the email to say something like,

"Hi group members,

I'm sorry to inform you that I won't be able to complete my portion of the assignment. I was scheduled to do x, y, and z, but a recent health crisis [or maybe "personal matter"?] will prevent me from doing so. I have spoken with the professor about this situation so he/she knows about it. I apologize for the poor timing, but thank you for your understanding. Good luck with the rest of the semester.


Some of your group members may be jerks about it, because group projects bring out the worst in everyone. Screw them. You're doing what you need to in order to take care of yourself, and that's what matters. Good luck, and take care of yourself.
posted by lilac girl at 6:05 PM on April 12, 2012

I was actually in your position during the fall term. It was very difficult breaking the news to my group, but I knew that being part of the group in that state was not beneficial for anyone.

I knew that I would fail at leading the group (which I initially took on) and that I would provide unfulfilled promises which would lead the group nowhere. Or worse, running in circles without any work to show.

I'm glad that you have booked an appointment with counseling services. They will be able to also lead you to other resources on campus. Ask about the persons with disabilities service/center if you have one on campus. They did the work that I struggled to do during that semester. They contacted my professors and advocated on my behalf during a difficult time.

If you don't have this service and can't wait until next week in order to let your team mates know. Then, contact your professor and explain that there is a severe emergency in the family and you would like to know if there are any alternative ways to complete the project without your group. Follow the email 'format' that Snarl Furillo included because that's what my professor recommended when I was going through something similar.

If you are comfortable then let your professor know about your situation (do not over disclose), but give more information than disclosed in the email to your group. They will probably be sympathetic and want to help you in order to ensure that you successfully complete the course.

My professor knew me for one year (I was only in two of her classes), but she knew what I was like on a good day versus an anxious day. She knew that I was struggling and she wanted to help me as much as she could. She was so incredibly kind; she helped me create an alternate assignment and didn't require me to do any sort of presentation. She also let me submit the assignment the following semester because I was in such a bad place.

Feel free to memail me. I hope things get better for you.
posted by livinglearning at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2012

Contact the professor and explain in as much detail as you are comfortable.

Contact your group members and says that due to unforseen personal ("medical" if you are comfortable) issues you cannot complete your portion of the work. Tell them (as soon as possible) that you have already discussed this issue with the instructor and that you are very sorry to have to leave them in a lurch. Forward along any work/notes that you may have completed.

Most decent people will take you at your word that you are dealing with something serious. If anyone gives you grief, be unfailingly polite but don't give them a second thought. If there is one thing I've learned through University, I've had to pick up slack on many a group project, and usually for much less serious reasons than yours. Don't feel bad about dealing with a personal emergency.
posted by Nightman at 6:29 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The hardest thing I did in college (and the best thing, for my well-being AND academic record) was getting a retroactive medical withdrawal from a quarter where I simply couldn't deal due to depression, etc. I should have made sure I was 1000% better and totally focused before coming back. There are a few other quarters where I stuck through it and begged and pleaded for incompletes and didn't tell people what was happening and so forth, which is why I had a terrible GPA and may never get into grad school and changed my major in desperation and ended up running away from life for half a decade and so on. Recovery comes first.

Your classmates need to know that you're sick, and you're very sorry. Your professor needs to know that you're very sick, you're very sorry, and that your classmates' project has been affected. Your school's disability officer or registrar needs to know that you can't complete this term. It's OK if you need a lot of help getting this stuff worked out - if you've got a friend who can come over and help you press that "send" button, now's the time to do it.

There are situations where you can get an incomplete, but I really most strenuously do not recommend them, at all, for mental health issues. Maybe, maybe if you know for sure things will be great as soon as some medication you're taking gets corrected - maybe. But depression can last longer than the amount of time they give you, because incompletes are designed for broken bones and concussions, not chronic mental illness. That happened to me, and it was only an extremely charitable professor that kept me from getting a well-deserved failing grade in one class I'd already gotten two incomplete extensions on. And oh, yeah, the incomplete hanging over my head? Did not contribute positively to my recovery at all.

I see that address, and thus suggest you look over the Canadian Mental Health Association's guide to when you're having mental health trouble as a college student. If you're not in Canada, feel free to MeMail me, and I can find you some more appropriate resources.

Oh, and go through the disability services office before the prof. They're much more reliable - that is to say, they'll be on the "helpful" side almost all the time. Your prof could be amazing or terrible, and you're already in a very shaky place for having missed the final. So talk to the office that's used to this stuff, first.

(And if you've got two crummy grades plus a fail coming: retroactive medical withdrawal for all three of them. You didn't learn enough in those classes, in all likelihood, and you deserve to not have any of this reflected in your GPA. Grad schools and employers see three W's in one term only a little bit worse than one W, and better than two C's and a W, in my experience. Though everything beats one C and two fails. Have I mentioned I've been there?)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:33 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you have any kind of illness that prevents you from completing work on an assignment then you are entitled to apply for some form of mitigation, and this includes mental health issues. Your institution should have a process for you to do this, and it will certainly have been applied to students with mental health issues previously. If you are comfortable with doing so, t would be a good idea to talk to the member of staff concerned so that they can take steps to figure out a way that you do not suffer as a result of your illness and that neother does your class. spekaing to the member of staff directly will make sure they are aware of both your difficulties and how this will affect your group. That member of staff should also be able to tell the group that you cannot provide the planned for input (personal grounds, illness, let them know what it is acceptable to you to have passed on) and how this will be taken into account in their assessment.
posted by biffa at 7:00 PM on April 12, 2012

As someone who's on the other side now (I'm a prof) I just want to say, please keep your professor in the loop. Not in any more detail than you're comfortable with, of course, but you should let him/her know that, because of a medical issue, you're unable to complete the course. This is one of the things that medical incompletes/withdrawals are MADE FOR. So, take the leave, get better, and come back and finish the work when you're capable of doing your best work. I also agree with others that disability services might be the best people to run this through - but keep your prof in the loop to whatever extent you can.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2012

From the OP:
Thank you all for your words of wisdom and encouragement. You have given me the courage to send messages to my prof and groupmates, and to look into getting an academic concession for the term, which I hadn't even considered. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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