I’ve struggled with mental illness long before I first arrived at university. Five months before freshman move-in day, I got my diagnosis and began managing it the best way I could. I took my meds, went to counseling and, as bad as I was feeling, I just kept telling myself that I wouldn’t let this defeat me.
For students with mental illnesses, the simple act of going to class can feel like having to jump a hundred-foot hurdle. It’s no secret that college can be a challenge, a balancing act even; but now more students than ever before are finding it hard to deal with the mental pressure and emotional strain of higher education. However as impossible as it may seem, managing a mental illness in college is possible.
1. Accommodations can be made – reach out.
My university, like many others, offers disability services to students with both physical and mental disabilities to help with their academic performance. When I made the decision to apply for their services, I went to their offices to fill out some initial paperwork and had to bring in a letter from my psychiatrist detailing my illness. From there I was able to choose the accommodations that would work best for me. These can be anything from priority registration, having a note taker for your classes, or even distraction-free/extended test taking time.
2. Counseling services are there – take advantage of it!
My university has an amazing counseling services department available to students and faculty. In addition to the counselor I see when I’m home, I also see a counselor every other week on campus as well. I highly recommend that other students struggling with managing their mental illness, as well as students who just need someone to talk to, take advantage of this service and talk to a counselor to help them tune out the irrational thoughts of anxiety and the hopeless feelings of depression, and assist them in finding different coping mechanisms.
3. Organization, organization, organization
Develop a rhythm and try your hardest to stay in sync with it. It could have to do with the order in which you do things in the morning, a specific path you take to your classes each day, what you do to wind down for the night, etc. This can especially apply to managing your actual coursework as well. Never doubt the power of a good planner. I set Sunday nights aside to sit down and lay out my entire week. Meetings, labs, work/class schedule, assignment due dates, anything; I jot it down. I’ve actually found that when I write something down in my planner to do during the week and later go back and cross it out once I’ve done it, I feel incredibly satisfied. Taking the time to write your obligations down and later cross them out as you complete them is not only satisfying but it also takes the anxiety out of trying to get everything done.
4. Have a safety net.
I’m incredibly lucky in that I have a strong support system of people who I can trust to help me out of an emotional rut. These can be your closest friends, maybe even a professor that you trust. Despite the distance, my family is still a dependable source of comfort for me. But in those situations where a phone call or Facetime just won’t cut it, thankfully I’m still close enough to where I can make a trip home for the weekend.
5. Keep self-care at the top of your list
Amid the tsunami of assignments, presentations, and trying to maintain a social life, I always try to make time for myself by making it a point to do something for myself once a day. I’ll walk around campus if it’s nice out, or read something unrelated to my classes (or sometimes related if it really interests me). Journaling has always helped as well as watching a funny YouTube video. And then there’s always the ultimate escape: music. Just do something to help yourself unwind and relax.
Managing a mental illness, in general, can be difficult, let alone managing one in college. However, it is still possible for you to be able to thrive and succeed and truly make your college years the best of your life.