Preparing To Manage Mental Health In College
By Kelly Burch
If you’re heading to college with a diagnosed mental health condition, you’re not alone. About 3 in 5 college students have a mental health diagnosis, and it’s likely many more are living with a condition but don’t have an official diagnosis.
Planning ahead to make sure your mental health and academic support needs are met will make your transition to college easier and empower you to have the college experience you’ve dreamed of and worked toward. And it can begin well before you step onto campus.
Dig into Your Diagnosis During Middle and High School
It can feel overwhelming to find out you have a mental health condition. A great way to empower yourself will be to learn about your diagnosis, develop skills to cope with the challenges that come with it, and—as soon as you’re ready—take charge of managing your treatment and care.
Your parents and caregivers, school counselors, teachers, and mental health providers can support you in this process. If you haven’t already, here are some important things to do before you leave for college or move away from your home.
- Find out as much as you can about your diagnosis. Ask your provider how the diagnosis was made, as well as about good resources for doing your own research about living with your condition.
- Know your medications. Familiarize yourself with any medications you take—what they’re for, possible side effects, when to take them, what to do if you miss a dose, and how to get a refill. If you don’t already have one, develop a reliable routine for taking your meds.
- Plan for new situations with your medication. Your medication should not be accessible to others, so plan to store it safely. Consider how you’ll respond to peer pressure to share your medications. Remember, sharing medications (called drug diversion) with others is dangerous and illegal.
- Take responsibility for your health care. If you don’t do so already, begin taking responsibility for scheduling appointments with your counselor, psychiatrist, and primary care provider.
- Be prepared with your mental health story. Think about and plan for what you’d like to share—or not share—about your mental health or medications when you meet new people at school. You might feel most comfortable keeping your diagnosis private, or you might feel empowered sharing your story. It’s up to you!
- Recognize early signs of change in your mental health. Over time, you and your loved ones have likely noticed patterns and signs that usually indicate you need a little more support or are not doing well. Take advantage of your loved ones’ experience and talk to them about letting you know whether they notice one of your mental health red flags while you’re away at college. Taking action early and seeing your doctors when these red flags appear is a good strategy to maintain your well-being.
- Have an emergency plan. Talk with your providers and other trusted adults about what will happen if you experience a mental health crisis. Know whom you’ll reach out to if you notice your symptoms worsening or feel that things have become unmanageable.
You've Got This
If this list feels overwhelming, know that these are skills you can develop over time; you get comfortable with one before you add another. Learning to manage your mental health is just another life skill like managing friendships, getting job experience, and learning how to organize your school work and extracurricular activities.
Remember: Mental health is health. Learning to manage your mental health care will have a positive impact on your overall well-being.