The transition from high school to college is, in some ways, a challenge for everyone. Dealing with a new environment, a new school format, finding a whole new support group, and figuring out who you are as a college student can be difficult in itself, and adding on any other life challenges can seem overwhelming. According to a recent study by the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 34% of college students at the surveyed schools were being treated for some type of mental health condition as of 2017. Common mental health issues for college students include stress, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders, substance abuse issues, and more.
Although many students come into college with preexisting mental health concerns, young adulthood is also when many mental health concerns become apparent for the first time, and when you are on your own at school, it can be difficult to know where to turn.
When dealing with mental health, it is important to remember that mental health is a real issue that should be addressed as seriously as physical health. It is not a sign of moral failure or weakness, and you are not alone. It is easy to think that your mental health concerns are “not that bad” and that other people have it worse, but you deserve to live a happy, healthy life and this includes your mental health. If you are struggling, here are some tips that may help.
- Talk to someone: When you are struggling with mental health, it is easy to withdraw and try to hide what you are going through. However, retreating from the world will only make it worse. Think of someone you trust: a parent, friend, professor, mentor, etc. who you can talk to. Tell them that you are struggling and that you need help. A close support network is not a cure, but having people that you can reach out to is a great first step.
- Consider therapy and/or pursuing prescription medication: One of the great things about college is that almost all schools have on-campus health centers which include mental health services for free or low cost to students. Make an appointment and bring up your mental health concerns with a doctor or counselor. This could be a first step to receiving a diagnoses, regular therapy, and/or a prescription that can help you. Therapy does not necessarily have to be constant or even long-term. It is common to participate actively in therapy when you’re feeling down and take a break when you are feeling better if that is your preference.
- Try changing your circumstances: I am NOT suggesting that fixing mental health issues is as easy as exercising or thinking positive thoughts, because mental health is way more complicated than that. However, outside circumstances do affect mental health and it may be worth it to see what changes that you can make in your life to make a small difference. If your current school or major is a bad fit for you, try making a change to something that you are more comfortable with. If your living situation is bad for you, see what steps you can take to move out. Make sure you are moving your body in some way on a regular basis—by taking walks, participating in sports, going to the campus rec center, whatever you enjoy. But most important, don’t beat yourself up for not doing as well as you think you “should” do. Just do your best and try to recruit help when you find yourself struggling.
Mental health challenges can make everything in life seem more difficult, but there are options available to get help. If you need immediate help with a mental health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or use their live online chat feature.