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Back to School can be challenging—it’s the end of beaches, campfires, and filling your time with exactly what you want to be doing. It’s time to get your head back into the academic game—ready or not.
What many students and parents don’t consider while picking out new pencils and folders at a local chain store is the tremendous toll that Back to School can also take on a student's mental health. Crowded living spaces, social pressures, hours of studying in the library, test stress—it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Mental health concerns in college populations have been on the rise in past years. This year, in 2015, anxiety surpassed depression as the top mental illness found on campuses nationwide. According to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four college students will deal with a diagnosable mental health problem during their time away at school.
This said, DON’T let mental health control your path for the next four years! Here are some tips for creating a good campus environment for both your body and your mind.
For new college students:
- Fake it ‘Til You Make It: While a cliché, this simple mantra has the power to entirely change how you approach your new school’s social scene. When meeting your peers for the first time, project the best version of yourself. It’s a lesson learned from personal experience that if you assume that no one will like you, then you will act as if no one likes you, and then (guess what?) others won’t want to be around you. Instead, even if you are shy as can be, spend your first semester putting yourself out there. Invite a floor mate to lunch! Ask the guy next to you in class to study with you. You might not find your “people” immediately—chances are you might not find them for a while—but campus starts to feel a lot less intimidating with a bunch of friendly faces!
- Follow the Map: Getting comfortable with different locations on campus early on will save you A LOT of stress down the road. In particular, figure out where to find your school’s Mental Health Center, as well as how it works. College FundaMENTAL has begun to collect information on various campus Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPs) around the country—so far, our resource should give you a good sense of just how varied these services can be. Specifics for your college are also available on the school website, so make sure to take a look. Often, you won’t realize how much you need this knowledge until you do.
For returning students:
- Learn the Balancing Act: Find a happy medium between socializing and studying. There is nothing worse for your mental health than spending hour after hour alone in your room, listening to the sounds of other students all around you. Conversely, procrastinating all day with activities and conversation will leave you stressed and anxious when it comes time to get down to business. Figure out a schedule that works for you—one that includes dinner with friends after a couple of hours quietly working in the library—and embrace your routine!
- Put Down That Cell Phone: Technology might make a lot of things easier, but concentration is not one of them. Constantly checking your phone for messages increases both your anxiety and the amount of time it takes you to finish a task. Facebook and Instagram, while great ways to keep up with friends, can also fuel depressing thoughts and feelings of loneliness. It isn’t necessary to avoid your cell all together, but PLEASE limit your clicks per minute. You will feel so much better when you do!
- Be an At-Home Counselor: Although you should encourage your young adult to head to the counseling center if something seems very wrong, you yourself are also an essential resource. Make sure that your child feels comfortable calling home when things get tough. College students need parents to be people that they can trust not to judge or ignore them—it takes a lot of trust to open up to someone about what is going on inside your head. Be someone who will LISTEN and CARE.
- Become a Student of Mental Health: Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you’re done learning. Take some time to read about the most common mental health disorders on college campuses—anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc.—so that you can be a ready resource for your college student. Understanding the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses is so important for helping your loved ones, as is having the RIGHT information to build an educated understanding. There are so many wonderful resources out there for mental health, so no excuses!
Good luck to everyone in the coming academic year!
College FundaMENTAL is looking to help students share their stories of struggle and triumph with mental health while allowing them to explore a collection of experiences similar to their own. What you choose to share with us is up to you–We understand how difficult it can be to tell your story and that each person tells his or hers in a different way. CFM also want to start a conversation about the current state of college counseling centers: what works, what doesn’t, and how the system can be improved. Come #GetMental with us at collegefundamental.com.