It’s like a culture shock transitioning from the life of a high school student to the life of a college student. The emotional, intellectual, and even physical challenges of college can through anyone off. There is one particular group of people that have an especially hard time: students with mental illnesses. The illnesses they’re dealing with on a daily basis can be isolating, especially when you’re younger and these student are often far from the support of their family and home.
Students with depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, or schizophrenia have to find their own way through their college experience with an additional burden. It’s what I had to do as a student and it was very difficult.
Though it was difficult, I am proof that it is not impossible. Here are some things that I had to learn through college in order to make it out in one piece.
Seek counseling. Of course, this is obvious, but a lot of people choose not to talk to a therapist. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common mental disorder, with more than 300 million people of all ages dealing with depression globally. A large percentage of these people don’t get treatment for their condition, usually because of stigma or a lack of knowledge. A lot of people don’t even know they have depression or other types of mental disorders. I didn’t know I had depression until I actually talked to a counselor in high school. This wasn’t a school counselor either, she was part of a special program the school was taking part of. It was also during a time when mental illness wasn’t really talked about. And up until that point, I hadn’t talked to anyone about what I had gone through and was going through. To make things worse, when I told people I went tot school with about seeing a counselor, many of them thought it was weird. One girl asked if I was crazy. So, it’s not really surprising that people don’t say anything. when you seek counseling, you’re taking the first step to healing. Talk to someone; reach out to the counseling services most schools offer. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Understand your triggers. The idea of “triggers” is so blown out of proportion these days. “Triggers” has even been meme’d in recent years, especially those that are directed at anything political. You know, those liberals are always being triggered! But, it is incredibly important to know what kind of daily, normal experiences can cause you to feel unstable. For me, it’s any sort of violent action or noise. When someone else at me or if I feel like I’m annoying someone, my anxiety gets triggered. I was able to understand this from talking to my therapists. They helped me figure out that I was experiencing anxiety because of the way I was treated as a child. I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes as a kid, or else I would be physically or verbally abused. Anxiety disorders are also common and anxiety triggers can come out of nowhere. It is important to discover any anxiety triggers you have because when you are able to identity a situation that might trigger you, you are taking an important step in managing them.
Find coping mechanisms. Find ways to help you cope with your depression. This can be a hobby or even simply a scent that brings back happy memories. Even a small amount of comfort can help in a time of need. My coping mechanisms include listening to calming music, taking a nap, being in the sun, reading a book, watching something funny, going for a walk, and I’ve recently learned, cuddling with my boyfriend.
Don’t become a hermit. Try your best to leave your room every day, even on days when you feel so bad that you just want to disappear or be lift to lie in your bed alone. You’re not helping yourself by doing this, trust me. Though it may seem hard, you need to force yourself to get up and go some place every day that is either not your dorm or home (if you live off campus or at home). I tried to stay on campus most of the time. I did this by doing my homework in the computer lab or library. I also spread out my class schedule so that I was on campus from morning to late afternoon. Another thing that helped was getting a tutoring job on campus and depending on your major, finding a club. At San Jose State, I was on the Spartan Daily, the school newspaper, which was required as a journalism major. This was very helpful to me because I didn’t even have the chance to hide away in my room. If you’re like me, your room is your safe space. No one is allowed in – though your family may judge the mess. But, we have to leave our comfort zones in order to grow.
Talk to your professors. Meeting with professors and letting them know about your condition can actually be very helpful. This allows them to know you and know when and if you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’re feeling off or if your week as been bad. In many cases, they might not be be able to compromise, especially with assignment deadlines. But, from my experience, they’re totally understanding. Especially when I share my experience with them and as a journalism student, I did that through my writing. I actually had one professor talk to our whole class when I was on the school paper as a reporter. He said he knew we can do better, we just need to believe it ourselves. I’m sure he was really talking to everyone, but I felt like he as talking to me because I had been slipping. He knew my potential as a writer and I wasn’t giving my best. I also had one professor give me more time to turn in a project because the subject matter triggered my anxiety and my depression had actually gotten worse. It is OK to be honest and upfront about your condition. And really, anyone should talk to their professors – I think they’re a lot more understanding than we think they are.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is something I learned while working at a spa and talking meditation and Reiki classes. It is basically when you stay aware and conscious in your present moment. It sounds simple, but it’s actually very hard. It takes a lot of practice to develop the ability to be conscious and connected to yourself, especially when you’re a student and your mind is all over the place. This is the main issue I have with my anxiety; I feel like my mind is constantly racing and thinking about everything all at once. This is also one of the triggers I look for, because when this happens I tend to shut down and it’s hard for me to express myself. When you’re in college, you might find yourself trying to manage a bunch of different commitments, like class work and projects, work, friends, and family. When you’re dealing with all this this, it’s hard to stay focused without thinking about the next things you need to do. For me, it seemed impossible to have to manage everything. But, when I try to center myself and stay present in the moment, I feel so much better. I also believe cellphones have ruined this for us – anyone else get bombarded with texts, email notifications, and news notifications? It’s overwhelming.
Have a game plan. When you have depression, suicidal thoughts are basically constantly running through your head. It’s bound to happen sometime, which is why being prepared when you feel fine is so important. Find someone you can reach out to – whether it’s roommates, family, or your counselor. Make sure who ever you are living with has your emergency contact information. Make sure you are having emotional check-ins with yourself, preferably at the beginning and end of each day. Take notes of any changes. Most importantly, if you feel like your depression is get really bad, have a resource ready. Whether it is a crisis hotline or the number to emergency counseling.
Above all, know that you’re important. Your feelings matter and your feelings are valid.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of 161 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Call 1-800-273-8255 – Available 24 hours, 7 days a week