Mental health issues are on the rise at American college campuses. Students are arriving on campuses with pre-existing mental health conditions. If you are one of those students or find that you are feeling depressed or anxious as you start or return to college, take to heart the following 9 ways to tend to your mental health. #9 is the most important on the list. Never forget that no matter how lost or alone you feel, someone can help you manage your feelings and help you turn the corner.
1. Know that depression and anxiety are common.
I know it may FEEL like you are the only one who is struggling, but according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors survey of counseling directors, anxiety continues to be the most predominant presenting concern among college students (46.2%), followed by depression (39.3%). You are not alone – it’s just not a an illness many people feel free to talk about.
2. Give yourself time to adjust, make friends and get in a routine.
Research shows that the biggest emotional struggle students face — especially their freshman year — is loneliness, according to Nance Roy, Ed.D., clinical director of The Jed Foundation and assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry. There are a lot of changes at the beginning of your college career. Even great changes take time to adjust to – so if it appears that others are making friends more quickly, they are probably feeling just as lonely as you are.
3. Avoid the comparison game on social media.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in what other people have going for them when you read about it multiple times a day. Try to remember that you are on your own journey and what someone else is sharing on social media is not the whole picture of their life, but a moment. If the stats in number one are any indicator, they are probably struggling with depression or anxiety too.
4. Find a group, club or activity you like or are passionate about.
Finding a group of people who share the same interests can go a long way to finding friends and creating strong bonds. There are a lot of clubs on campus. In fact, you will probably find many more groups on a college campus than there were in High school. So go check out the clubs like theater, french, wellness, student leadership, swim, ultimate frisbee, yearbook, school paper, tennis, religious groups, etc. and meet some new people who like what you like.
5. Limit the partying
Parties and gatherings are part of the college experience so far be it from me to tell you to stop. However, if you are struggling with depression or anxiety, keep in mind that drinking is not going to make you feel better, it will actually make you feel worse. So go hang out with your friends and meet new people (and ALWAYS hold your own drink at all times), but make it a Coke instead of a beer.
6. Take care of yourself
Hanging with friends till 3 or 4 a.m. seems like a right of passage for any college freshman. I certainly wouldn’t want you to miss that opportunity to bond with your classmates. Staying up late every night however does wicked things to your body, mind, and emotional state. Try to keep it to weekends when you can sleep in which, by the way you need to get some. Sleep, that is. Shoot for 6-7 hours of sleep a night. Sleep helps you handle stress better. Exercising will also help you handle stress. Grab a friend and go for a walk, meet at the racquetball courts or take a zumba class. If your college offers regular classes, sign yourself up to motivate you to make it a priority. Last, eat healthy. I know, caf food is not always the easiest place to make healthy choices. Focus on getting 3 meals a day. Avoid empty carbs – they can make your anxiety and depression worse.
7. It’s okay to change your major or drop a class
Much of college is figuring out who you are and what you like to do. What you THOUGHT you would like to do back when you applied for school and registered for classes can change! It happens a lot in your first year, but can sometimes happen as late as Junior or Senior year. If you are learning that your passion isn’t quite what you thought it would be, it’s okay. Make the change now before you spend 4 years wishing you had.
8. Know where to get help on campus BEFORE you need it.
More than likely, you will be told where health services are during orientation. Pay attention, check out their website and know where you can get help if you need it. Campus pastors and RA’s are also great listeners and a resource should you need help.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Now that you know where to get help, don’t be afraid to go there when you need it. I TOTALLY understand wanting to work out your problems and figure it out by yourself, but honestly? No matter how small you feel your problem is, talking to a professional about it is such a relief. It’s great to have someone truly listen to you, offer perspective and give you the tools to manage your problem and approach your life in such a way that it becomes manageable. Never be afraid to ask for more tools to cultivate a healthy mind! Navigating college, figuring out how to be away from your family, taking challenging classes and deciding what you want to do with your life is no small task. Go ahead and ask for help – you won’t regret it.
If you know someone who struggles with mental health, please share this post with them. This is also a great resource for RA’s.
Blessings to all the students and teachers who return to campuses in the coming weeks. Have a great year!