Having a mental illness can hugely impact your college experience. Sometimes instead of going to class or hanging out with friends, you’re stuck in bed like a lump. Maybe you stutter when you run into your friend at the student health center and try to come up with an excuse for why you’re at the doctor for the millionth time or when your roommate asks you what all those pills are for. You’ve probably asked your professors for more than one extension on an assignment because you’ve spent the night before a deadline paralyzed by anxiety or too depressed to care. For those of you who know what I’m talking about: this post is for you. Here are some tips that might help you cope and make the best of your college experience.
Take advantage of your university’s services. Don’t be afraid to go to the student health center. Seriously. Yes, you might run into people you know, but you can always tell them you’re there for a checkup if you don’t feel comfortable sharing. The staff members are bound by confidentiality laws. And remember, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Your university may offer a number of free therapy sessions and a team of psychiatrists, therapists, and doctors that specialize in various mental health concerns. The student health center is your most convenient one-stop-shopping for your mental health needs and can literally be lifesavers.
Give yourself some alone time. If you’re like me, you probably need some time to yourself each day to recharge. It can be hard to find this time when you share a room, but I encourage you to try your very hardest to make it happen. Find a space that feels like your own, like a secluded spot outside or in a quiet building. Maybe even coordinate with your roommate so that you each have some alone time. Having a little time to yourself can calm you down and make all the difference when you’re feeling stressed.
Get enough sleep. This one can be tough, given the heavy homework load and late night activities of college. But it’s super important. Getting enough sleep can make all the difference in your mood and your performance. When you’re sleep deprived you’re more vulnerable to disease and your mental illness. It’s okay to be the “uncool” one who goes to bed early. Staying up till 3 a.m. isn’t worth it in the long run. Try to put sleep at the top of your priorities list.
Don’t compare yourself to others. This one is way easier said than done. Most of us have a tendency to look at others’ carefully constructed social media profiles and compare them to our own lives. What we forget is that between the adventures, parties, and smiles are undoubtedly moments of sadness, homesickness, and stress. Try to remind yourself that social media only shows what we want it to. Your profiles probably look perfect too. You are awesome and you can stop the comparisons.
Be open with at least one person. I’d recommend having at least one person on campus that knows your struggle with mental illness. Just having someone know what you’re going through can be a relief. You don’t have to carry the burden alone. They may also offer support and understanding when you’re having a difficult time. And it’s important to have someone know about your background when you’re going through a crisis. More than once my first trusted friend at college has been there to care for me when I was a crying, panicking mess of suicidality. I highly encourage you to find at least one person to trust. They might even save your life. You can always call or chat with the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Take time off if you need it. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to take a break from school when you need it. It can be a really terrifying decision to stray from the beaten path, but it can potentially save your life. I took a year off on medical leave when it became too difficult to continue recovery at school. It was so worth it. I needed that time to focus on myself and when I came back to school I was better prepared for the challenges of university.
Having a mental illness in college can feel miserable at time— but it is manageable. Hopefully these suggestions can help you get a better handle on college and enjoy it as much as you can!