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College can be a difficult time on its own; classes, extracurriculars, jobs, friends, and family. Having a mental illness can make everything just a little bit harder on your life. Here are some ways to survive college with mental illness:
Support is really important in college, mental illness or not. Whether it be friends, family, or a combination of the two, they can be great to get you through your years in higher education. Having a good friend or two can make all the difference. Ones that you can talk to about anything. They can be hard to find though. I recommend meeting people through classes you like or clubs you take part in.
A website you might find useful is http://meetup.com It’s a place where you can meet people in your area with similar interests as you. There is anything from book clubs to game nights to adventure groups.
There are also support groups that can prove helpful. It’s people who share similar experiences to you. When I was at one of my lowest points a Depression and Bipolar support group was really beneficial for me. I was able to talk to people who were familiar with my situation and could give me genuine advice or just understand what I had to say. You can do a simple search for groups in your area. If you have trouble finding one then I recommend looking through nearby hospital and church websites. That is where I have found the ones I have attended.
Finding a good therapist is important as well. They are a nonjudgmental ear there to listen to your story. If you are taking part in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavior Therapy or any other form besides talk therapy, they can help change dysfunctional thinking and behaviors. I talk more about getting counseling in the next section.
Take Home Message: Getting the right kind of support is essential.
Almost every college has a health center available to its students. Take advantage of it. It most likely has a mental health department; in it they will have psychiatrists and psychologist there to help you. I would make an appointment as soon as you can because they may have long wait times due to the amount of students needing care.
I would also do a search for a counseling center on campus. There you can get short-term therapy sessions for free, my college had group therapy sessions for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, anxiety groups, women’s mental health groups, and more. If it is determined that you need more long-term counseling, they can refer you to outside group practices. You can also usually find information on campus resources here. I know they also take confidentiality serious in places like this so you don’t have to be worried that it could impact your relationship with your university.
Your college almost definitely has a disability office. This is where you can apply for accommodations for your classes. Letting the school know you have a mental illness is up to you but I personally think that having that extra help can be really useful if you have trouble getting to class or need to take mental health days so that you don’t get too overwhelmed or stressed out.
Take Home Message: Take advantage of your school’s resources.
Self-care is an important aspect of keeping yourself healthy throughout college. Self-care can mean anything from having good sleep hygiene to taking walks to cleaning your room.
For me, the best way to take care of myself during long college days is to come home and eat a nutritious meal with a warm cup of green tea and snuggle my dogs. Find what is best for you by trying out different things. Do you find that clipping your nails once a week makes you feel better? Do you like taking hot baths before bed? Do you find exercising in the morning makes you feel energized? Do what you need to do to feel good about yourself and take care of yourself.
Take Home Message: Learn the best way to take care of yourself.
Dropping Classes and Time Off
I went through two and a half years of college then I had to take some time off for my sixth and seventh semester because of my mental health. The first time I had to take time off I ended up dropping three of my classes after 10 weeks in. It was a hard decision but it needed to be done. The second time I had to medically withdraw from the entire semester full of courses. This was also a difficult call. I needed more time off than I had previously realized.
Don’t forget to consider how dropping classes or taking time off will affect your financial aid package, college status, and other standings.
Time off from school can be a beneficial experience. You can focus solely on your recovery and get back to school once you are ready again. Of course I wouldn’t take time off to just do nothing. I would try medication if that’s an option for you. Try or continue therapy sessions. Go to support meetings. Spent time with loved ones. Learn more about your condition(s). Learn new ways to cope and how you can be successful in school again.
Take Home Message: It’s okay to drop a class or take time off from school if you need to.
All in all you can survive college with a mental illness. It may be more difficult for you but it’s possible. Just do your best and that is all anyone can ask of you.
Please take everything I write about with a grain of salt. I am not a professional. If you are concerned about your health please consult a professional.
My To-Do List
Before the Semester Starts
- Apply for accommodations with the disability office
- Get a medical letter for the disability office
- Plan out my class schedule
- Look up support group in my college’s area
- Go through the route to each class
- Locate the student health center
- Meet with my student advisor
- Call my college’s counseling center and take note of available resources
- Apply for jobs near or at my college
Beginning of Semester
- Join clubs that interest me
- Give professors accommodation letters
- Start therapy sessions
- Start a daily and weekly routine (include times for meals, homework, exercise, and social activities)
- Make an appointment with the school’s psychiatrist
- Make plans to visit home
- Purchase required textbooks and supplies
- Try support groups out
- Make a study schedule
- Start a self-care routine
During the Semester
- Track symptoms through journaling or a mood tracker app
- Attend classes regularly
- Continue to see my therapist and/or psychiatrist
- Take all medications as prescribed
- Complete all assignments as soon as possible
- Take breaks every now and then
- Start volunteering at a local charity
- Continue to see friends and family
- Continue self-care
- Schedule classes for next semester
After the Semester
- Organize all class materials
- Prepare for the next semester
- Continue to take medications as prescribed
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