College and Mental Illness: How to Deal
If you have a mental illness, graduating from college might seem impossible. But many students do it—and you can, too. Mental illness may make college more difficult—and a campus environment can have a negative effect on some disorders. But that doesn’t mean you can’t graduate from college—with the right preparations and precautions.
Establish a medical support system at school
When you go to college, you may think you can continue to depend on your psychiatrist at home. While this is possible for some students, for others it may be better to make sure they have a strong connection with campus health services.
The obvious reason is that it can be crucial to have someone on campus who’s familiar with your illness in case of emergencies. In addition, because with the stresses of college, you may have to fine-tune your medication—and it’s much easier to do that with an on-campus health care provider.
College is never easy—but it’s much harder if you have a mental illness.
Know the signs of an episode
Without your parents to monitor you closely, you’ll have to become adept at self-monitoring. Be very aware of the signs of a relapse or episode—and have a plan in place for what to do in case it happens. This plan can be developed in partnership with your existing psychiatrist, or the health care professionals you meet at school.
Manage your stress—and your life
Stress can make mental illness worse. Just because your illness is under control at home, don’t assume it will be fine at school with increased academic stress, tight schedules, and tougher demands on your time. To be successful at school, many students with mental illness find that they have to be extremely strict when managing their schedules—and they can’t afford the procrastination and late-night cram sessions students without mental illnesses indulge in. Be sure to get your assignments done well ahead of time, don’t overload your schedule—and try to spread out the tougher courses on your schedule.
Make sure your professors know about your illness
Talk to your professors. If your illness might affect your ability to deliver assignments on time, be sure they know. It’s possible that your professors will be able to work out a plan in advance for exams and assignments—so if you start having health issues, they and you will know how to handle it and it won’t drastically affect your grades.
Document your case
Check in with the disability services department at your university and document your mental illness. Many students associate departments like this only with physical disabilities, but they can help with mental illness as well—and they may be able to get you resources, special assistance, and other services that will help you immeasurably on campus.
Get plenty of sleep
Students with mental illnesses must be particularly careful about exhaustion. A lack of sleep could have a dramatic negative effect on your mental well-being. Always make sure you leave enough time for sleep. Avoid all-nighters—don’t procrastinate—and if necessary, try to avoid scheduling classes in the early mornings.
Choose the right place to live
Knowing the right environment for you takes some self-knowledge—but it’s important. Living in the wrong place can set you up for failure. For instance, if you know that you need alone time to stay mentally healthy, having a roommate might not be a good idea. If being around large groups of people stresses you out, you might want to avoid living in a dorm, sorority, or fraternity. For some students with mental illness, living off campus is the best option. For others, living on campus and close to social support services and programs is crucial.
College is never easy—but it’s much harder if you have a mental illness. Still, many students with mental illnesses successfully complete college—and go on to have fulfilling careers. You may have to take some extra precautions to ensure success, however. Start with these tips, and talk with your psychiatrist about the specific challenges you’ll face in college—and the solutions. If you do, you have a much better chance of having a good experience in college.
College Kids and Depression - ABCNews.com
Health.com: Back in School and Bipolar? How College Can Unleash Mania
WesternToday: Mental Illness in the College Student
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