If you’re heading off to college, no doubt you feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness. However, if you live with a mental health disorder, you may experience greater anxiety than other students. You probably have a host of questions, too.
Where can you turn if you find yourself in crisis while on campus? How can you build a healthy support system? What resources does your school offer in terms of counseling and group meetings? Finding answers in advance can ease your transition into college and independent living.
Understand You Are Not Alone
Recent research by the American Psychological Association reveals 35% of college students have a mental health disorder during their freshman year. While this highlights the need for additional services, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone.
However, due to the stigma associated with mental health disorders, many students feel inhibited sharing their struggles. One safe method you can use to find supportive classmates is through social media.
Follow your university on Facebook and Twitter. This enables you to meet other students behind the relative anonymity of your screen. Review the profiles of others in your student group and identify those who post positive content in support of individuals with mental health disorders. Reach out to them and forge alliances before your first day.
Recognize the Most Common Mental Health Disorders in College Students
Students with a wide range of mental health disorders do succeed in college. However, due to the rarity of some illnesses and the unique pressures of university life, certain conditions prove more common, such as:
- Anxiety: You’ll often hear classmates use the terms “I’m so anxious” or “I’m having a panic attack” before important exams. However, genuine anxiety disorders can paralyze you with their intensity. Types of anxiety disorders common in college students include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Depression: Depression originates due to biological changes in neurotransmitter function, as well as from external factors such as poor grades, loneliness and isolation or financial difficulties. You can watch for symptoms of depression in yourself and other students. They include sadness that persists longer than two weeks, increasing withdrawal from social activities, and threats or acts of self-harm.
- Eating disorders: Many students express worry about gaining the “freshman 15.” Eating healthy meals aids in weight management. However, if you obsess over calories, exercise to excess, overeat or engage in other unhealthy eating habits, realize it’s okay to look for help.
- Drug/alcohol abuse and addiction: Almost 70% of high school seniors report using alcohol, and in college, they can indulge free from parental disapproval. This leads many to binge drink, especially if they use alcohol to manage SAD. Some students try off-label prescription medications or other drugs at a party, then become addicted. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing — and like any illness, it deserves caring treatment.
Ask Questions Before Your First Day
You can assuage many of your fears by asking your selected school questions ahead of time. Ideally, the best time for making specific inquiries about campus mental health resources and accommodations is before signing your acceptance letter and paying your deposit. Selecting a school with a full range of academic and emotional support systems in place will help ensure your success.
At a minimum, universities must permit students with disabilities — including mental health disorders — to complete projects and tests in alternative settings or formats. Students with severe anxiety, for example, can give oral presentations directly to their professors instead of to the entire class.
Schools must allow students with special needs additional time to get to class and complete their work. The best colleges assist students in obtaining technology, such as recordings and CD versions of textbooks, without requiring these individuals to spend additional money. They can allow emotional-support animals on campus even if a no-pet policy typically applies.
Finally, schools can help students in need to locate campus resources like the counseling center and student support groups. Starting with orientation, administrators can introduce all students to them during their tours and post prominent notices about available aid throughout campus. You should always be aware of the on-campus resources available for your mental and physical health.
Where to Turn for Help
Whether you arrive at university with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis or you notice the signs as you go through your first year, you need to know where to turn for help. Both on-campus and off-campus resources exist to help you.
If you notice symptoms of a mental health disorder, seek help right away. A study performed in 2014-15 revealed a 210% increase in the number of students dropping out of college due to mental health disorders compared to 2010 rates. If you’ve taken out student loans, you will need to repay them whether or not you complete your degree. Seeking help early to prevent mental health woes from impacting your academic progress makes solid emotional — and economic — sense.
Consider the following resources as you begin your journey back to health.
- Start with the counseling center. Many colleges include access to a counselor as part of the price of tuition. Visit the counseling center, and forthrightly explain the symptoms you’re struggling with. Be honest — remember, therapists exercise discretion and empathy when dealing with diseases like addiction.
- Seek student support groups. Many universities have student support groups for those suffering from various mental health disorders. These can help you feel less isolated and forge healthy friendships.
- Go online. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting in-person, try online support groups. Many groups are free to join and meet nearly any hour.
- Adopt a self-care routine. Feeling tired and sick can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness. Strive to eat a healthy diet, filling half your plate with veggies and fruits at each meal. Take 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days per week, and practice good sleep hygiene. If a noisy dorm-mate keeps you awake, invest in inexpensive earbuds and a face mask to help you get a good night’s rest.
- Try an app. Multiple apps exist for helping you manage depression and anxiety. Many cost little to nothing.
- Call or text a crisis line. In the U.S., texting 741741 connects you to a crisis counselor. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline any time of the day or night.
Managing Your Mental Health at College
Going off to a university comes with a host of new stresses. If you already have a mental illness, you may feel extra nervous about your journey, and if you develop one while in college, you’re far from alone. By knowing where to find help, you can enjoy a vibrant post-high school career and earn the degree of your dreams.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author
With a passion for education and student lifestyle, writer and blogger Alyssa Abel makes it her mission to offer helpful, well-informed resources for students and teachers everywhere. Read more of her work on Syllabusy.
Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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