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Navigating Mental Health During College

Written by: Miranda Owen

Miranda Owen is one of NAMI Wake’s work study students, helping us as a social media technician and blog contributor. 

As a college student, I am particularly aware of how many different stressors appear throughout the experience, especially for newer students. When I first came to college my anxiety and depression were much worse, which affected my schoolwork and social life. It is so difficult to be away from home for the first time while simultaneously navigating changes in your mental health and adapting to the unique challenges of being a college student. I’m here to share mental health coping tips and reminders as someone who has experienced the same challenges that most students go through. 

  1. Identify any accommodations you may need. When I first entered college, I had a very difficult experience transferring my antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication from my hometown pharmacy to the health center pharmacy at my college. If you are not yet enrolled in college or haven’t considered the accommodations you may need such as medication, counseling, or other resources, it’s good to think these over. Disability resource centers on your campus can be helpful in identifying accommodations that can make your college experience better.  Accommodations for mentally ill students can range from priority class registration and exam accommodations, but note that these accommodations may require written documentation from a mental health professional.
  2. Manage your academics in a way that works for you. Dealing with a mental illness while in college is especially a challenge when it comes to keeping up with assignments and deadlines, planning your schedule, and being successful academically. Find coping skills that work for you. For instance, I always use soothing music and have a “spa day” before a big exam to reduce test anxiety; it also helps some people to regularly work out to help manage depression symptoms. You can try study groups or tutoring services to help supplement your knowledge while meeting other students as well.
  3. Healthy habits are really important, especially for students living on their own for the first time. Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and a consistent sleep schedule will give you more energy and focus. Take advantage of campus resources like personal trainers at your campus gym and healthy options at your dining hall. It’s difficult to form these habits at first but focusing on these three healthy habits definitely helped improve my overall mental state and functioning while in college.
  4. Be aware of alcohol and drug use. Some individuals also may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with difficult transitions and mental health symptoms. Be aware of excess drug or alcohol use in yourself and your peers, and moderate or eliminate these substances. In the United States, an average of 50% of college students engage in binge drinking, which can lead to health complications and alcoholism. You can find more information about substance abuse and treatment resources here.
  5. Take advantage of campus counseling services. Most colleges offer free or inexpensive counseling services, which can also refer you to other mental health services if you need them. For instance, my university, North Carolina State University, offers 24-hour counseling, a chapter of NAMI on our campus, and suicide prevention and crisis resources. You can search for these resources specific to your school by searching on their student health center website or by researching different mental health specific organizations on your campus. It can help to connect to like-minded individuals by participating in mental health related events, including your school or community’s local NAMI chapter. If you are interested in joining a support group in Wake County, you can visit the “programs and services” tab on our website to find a support group that’s right for you. Additionally, if your school does not provide mental health services, you can find more Wake County mental health services here. If you or a friend is in a crisis, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or immediately call 911 in an emergency.

Sources: I, II

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