A Fresh Start: First-Year Students Can Protect Their Mental Health This Back-to-School Season

For many first-year students, the start of college can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Life transitions are so much easier and enjoyable with the right support. The Jed Foundation (JED), a leading national nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults, helps students manage their emotional health, cope with challenges, and support the people in their lives.

JED’s Set to Go program offers easy-to-use resources and guides that meet students where they are so they can manage the transition to college with less stress and more confidence. Set to Go provides  in-depth information covering important topics such as managing homesickness, getting to know campus services, asking for help, staying safe on campus, adjusting to college life as a first-generation student or student veteran, taking care of mental health in college, and much more.

“It’s important for not only first-year students, but all college students, to understand that they are not alone during this big transition. There are all kinds of support available, including mental health services,” says Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, JED’s Chief Medical Officer. “College is a great time to learn the skills of advocating for yourself and putting in place the things you need to feel comfortable and be successful.”

As part of a nationwide original research study conducted by JED to investigate the expectations and experiences faced by teens and young adults as they transition from high school to college, 830 participants ranging in age from 16 to 24 were asked for their perspectives on the types of support they want and the systems that have been most helpful to them.1 

The study’s findings helped to inform and guide JED’s Set to Go programming and included the following tips.

Create a Support Network

As a first-year student, you may experience at least some awkwardness building a new social life when starting school. JED’s research finds that nearly half of current or former college students report feeling out of place or isolated while in college. There’s nothing weird or wrong about feeling unsettled or lonely in the first few weeks or months at school. It’s actually normal. The good news is that going off to college doesn’t mean losing your network, but rather it gives you the opportunity to strengthen existing connections and build a larger, more robust support system. 

  • Take time to build relationships with classmates, roommates, and professors. Building a community will help you feel a sense of belonging and support. CDC data shows that students who feel more connected to people at their school have better mental health. While fostering connections and building new friendships, make a mental note of people who make you feel safe, heard, and seen. Knowing who you feel comfortable talking to—and being yourself around—will ensure that you have someone to lean on when times are tough. Here are some quick tips for creating connections in college:

Prioritize Self-Care

A majority of current or former college students cite maintaining a healthy routine as a challenge. Prepare for it by dedicating time to activities that recharge your mind and body, such as regular exercise, meditation, hobbies, or spending time in nature. Check out these guides:

Reach Out 

If you experience struggles during your freshman year, you are not alone: 14% of students reported suicidal ideation this year, 6% planned a suicide, and 2% attempted suicide.

Set to Go also provides resources for families and educators to help them assist you while also caring for themselves during this pivotal transition.

1This sample was representative of the U.S. population of 16- to 24-year-olds, with respect to race/ethnicity and geographic region. Participants were a mix of current high school students, current and former college students, and high school graduates who did not attend college.

This is intended as a resource only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health-care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or a mental health, suicide, or substance-use crisis, reach out 24/7 to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. 

For more information on The Jed Foundation or its Mental Health Resource Center, please visit jedfoundation.org.

Media Contact
Justin Barbo
Director of Public Relations
The Jed Foundation

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.