College isn’t always the easiest time for many students. It’s not only the transition away from home, but it can be living with a difficult roommate, not having many friends, and just being stressed from classes. If you already suffer from any kind of mental illness, these things can add on and intensify it.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Most signs first appear between the ages of 18 and 24. Common examples seen on college campuses are eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. These can make life complicated and miserable and can affect relationships, grades, and cause problems in daily life. It can make you feel like life is not worth living and that your world is this dark and hateful place, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is a world full of opportunity and life and happiness and joyful experiences, but these disorders get in the way of that and can only make you see the negative instead of the positive. It can also make you feel as if there is no help or support out there, but there is.
It is not easy seeking help out. It can make you feel like you’re an outcast or there’s some stigma against you. It can also be scary knowing that there is something different going on in your mind and body, and not really knowing what it is and how to manage it. You should never feel ashamed and know it is absolutely not your fault. Communication and treatment are the proper ways to succeed in college while dealing with any kind of mental issue. The point of finding support is to better handle the situations that come with the mental illness and accepting your circumstances, whatever they may be.
1. Live a healthy lifestyle
Working out and eating right is a strong factor in mental health. Healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and products low in sugar, fat, sodium, and cholesterol help you feel good and energized. Exercising releases endorphins and dopamine (the “feel-good” chemicals), and getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night will decrease irritability and keep your symptoms at bay. Staying away from stimulants also helps. Avoid too much caffeine, try and stay away from any kind of drugs, and minimize alcohol consumption. Keep track of the way you feel when you don’t get adequate sleep and eat a poor diet and compare it to when you treat your body right. These simple changes might be just what you need.
2. Know your triggers
Everybody has their own triggers that worsen symptoms of their mental illness, whether it be an overwhelming amount responsibilities, workload for classes, expectations of other people (peers, parents, professors, etc.). Be aware of when your triggers are appearing, and know how to manage them. You can take personal time to forget about them and zone out, make a list to keep track of everything, or jot down your feelings in a journal.
3. Utilize free campus resources
Many college campuses offer free counseling sessions to students and some even have psychiatrists at the campus health center. It’s good to vent about your problems, and if there’s a deeper issue they can refer you to someone. When you talk to someone about your feelings, it takes a heavy weight off your shoulders. It’s not always easy to talk to your friends and family, no matter how close you may be to them, so seeing a judgment-free professional is a helpful option.
There are also clubs you can join to make you feel more comfortable, like NAMI On Campus (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). Their cause is, “to eradicate mental illness and improve the quality of life of those affected by these diseases.” Joining any campus club in general can also make you feel empowered and socialize you with people that can lead to new friendships. Colleges hold many fairs to inform students about these opportunities, and information is also available at campus centers.
4. Open up to a physician
If you don’t know where to start or what to do about your symptoms ask your primary doctor. Open up about how you have been feeling and he or she can give you tests and offer advice on what to do or where to go. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you are weak. Reaching out is a sign of strength, and you are always stronger than you think. Helping yourself when you are in a time of need is courageous. Anyone who thinks, feels or tells you differently is a victim of social stigmas and close-mindedness. If the doctor is someone you have been seeing for years and feel nervous, it’s ok to feel that way, but remember it is their job to help you overcome what you are going through.
5. Know it’s okay to be on medication
You might think there is a stigma with taking medications – that people will judge you and think you’re “crazy,” but that is not the case. Medication is to help you with your condition and make you feel in control again. Just like you take allergy medicine to help you get through the day when your seasonal allergies bug you, medication, like anti-depressants, helps you get through the day when your depression or anxiety bugs you. And, if you accompany your medication with therapy, you could find yourself off medication when you start feeling better. It’s just a process.
College is a time where you are supposed to enjoy being young and have fun with every aspect of life. Mental illness can make that nearly impossible. It might seem like the worst thing in the world to have to give up drinking nights with your friends, or opening up to someone, but it’s just a hump you will get over and feel better for it. Getting better is possible, and that is probably the most important thing to remember. It just doesn’t happen overnight, and like everything else, it takes work. But, it will be worth it.
I am a junior at the Florida State University currently studying Psychology with a biology minor and in the process of picking up a communications minor as well. I am in a sorority called Sigma Delta Tau and I was blessed with a twin sister who also goes to FSU. Surprisingly, we are sorority neighbors as well! I love being involved and can’t wait to be active in my clubs again this coming semester and see what new adventures I will have the pleasure of experiencing.