4 Tips for Navigating College Life with a Mental Illness

College is a brand-new chapter in your life, full of hope, excitement, and increased responsibility.  While change can be a good thing, it can also come with a great deal of stress. If you are a student with a mental illness preparing to go away to college or returning to school after receiving a diagnosis for the first time, it is important to prepare by implementing strategies to prioritize your mental health.  College life comes with an increased workload, the pressure to establish a social life, and the potential for some serious homesickness. It is also an opportunity to try new things, meet new people with similar interests, and evolve into a legitimate adult. Mental illness should not hold you back from furthering your education or pursuing your dreams, but it should be a factor in your plans for the future.  Here are four tips to help you take care of yourself while enjoying your college experience. 

Utilize Your Resources

Many schools now offer fantastic mental health resources to their students.  Do as much research as you can about what services your school offers, and how easy it will be for you to receive mental health care if you need it.  You may want to call and ask if the school has an on-campus psychiatrist, how long it takes to be seen, and if there is after-hours mental health support available as well.  Many schools also offer group therapy or student-run organizations that host support groups for a variety of mental health issues, such as eating disorders and addiction. If you have not yet chosen a school, you should definitely consider allowing mental health resource availability to be a determining factor in your choice.  College life can be isolating enough without feeling like you have nowhere to turn when things get difficult.

Make a Plan

If you have been receiving reliable mental health care for some time, it is important that you plan for a way for that care to continue once you leave for school.  This might mean finding a new therapist on campus or near the school in advance of your move or perhaps continuing to see your current therapist via video chat. Make sure that you are also able to see a psychiatrist nearby if you depend on medications or mood stabilizers, or confirm that your current doctor is willing to maintain your prescription while you are away at college.  If you are leaving for an entirely new town, it is also important to get a handle on the transportation system in advance and find out where places like pharmacies and hospitals are located.  

Consider Potential Stressors

You may not be able to avoid stress entirely when transitioning to college, but you can take steps to take care of yourself physically and anticipate triggering circumstances.  Mental health is intrinsically tied to physical health, so it is important that you make healthy food choices and stay active as much as possible while at school. Many college campuses have a gym that you can utilize, or you may choose to wake up early for some yoga in your dorm room if you prefer to work out alone.  Nutrition is equally as important, and choosing healthy foods may pose an extra challenge on a college campus amid fast food and vending machines. Carry healthy snacks in your backpack for when hunger strikes, and avoid loading up on sugar or caffeine to get through the day, as these can contribute to anxiety and sleep issues.  Additionally, stay ahead of your schoolwork by taking advantage of any extra tutoring or workshops provided, and asking for help when needed. If you feel your mental health is impacting your ability to perform academically, talk to a school counselor or disability advisor about your options.

Talk About It

Although mental illness still carries a heavy stigma in our culture, it is important to remember that mental health struggles are incredibly common, and nearly half of college students report having seen a counselor for mental health concerns.  Don’t be afraid to let those around you know what you are dealing with, and perhaps let them know how you prefer them to react when you are having a bad day. Some of us need a shoulder to cry on, while others prefer a little distance when things become tense.  If you have a roommate or close study buddy, it can help to give them a heads up. It is also important that you remain in contact with your closest friends and family members from home, and ask for their support when you are feeling lonely or overwhelmed. If you are in a pinch and unable to find anyone to lend an ear, online support groups can be a great resource as well.  

Many college students living with mental illness turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, and in doing so many pf these individuals develop debilitating addictions.  If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families.  Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 888-530-9424.