Attending college is a significant milestone in one’s life and is a period of rich intellectual, professional, personal, and social development. However, college is also a challenging period. In many cases, students are away from home and on their own for the first time, dealing with an academic course load more rigorous than they’ve experienced before, and are immersed in an environment that’s completely new to them, oftentimes with limited preparation. We will discuss in a future blog how to effectively prepare for college.
College is undoubtedly stressful. Research indicates that nearly 50% of college students have felt hopeless in the past year, and nearly 60% have felt lonely. What’s more, according to a 2013 survey, 33% of college women and 27% of college men reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function. A 2012 report indicates that 64% of students who dropped out of college did so because of mental health reasons. According to National Data on Campus Suicide and Depression, 1 in 12 college students makes a suicide plan.
Mental health issues can affect any college student, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, GPA, or family upbringing. This means that no parent is immune from having a college student (or child of any age, for that matter) with a mental health issue and who might be having thoughts of suicide. The following are warning signs that someone might be at risk for suicide:
- Always talking about or thinking about death
- Deep sadness, loss of interest, and trouble sleeping or eating that gets worse over time
- Losing interest in things they used to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Saying things like “It would be better if I weren’t here” or “I want out.”
- Sudden, unexpected change from being very sad to appearing very calm and/or happy
- Talking about suicide or killing themselves
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
If you know someone who is exhibiting any of these warning signs, you should encourage them to reach out for help.
If you have experienced feelings of sadness, stress, loneliness, or lack of energy or interest, have had thoughts of suicide, or are just not feeling like yourself, please know that you are not alone.
Chances are that plenty of your classmates are feeling the same way that you are. Many aspects of the typical college lifestyle contribute to or exacerbate mental health difficulties, and because of stigma and other outside pressures, a large proportion of students do not seek help, which creates a vicious cycle.
Many of the mental health difficulties college students experience are the result of the notion that by the time you’re 18 and in college, you’re an adult and you have to have it all figured out. Well guess what? You don’t. You may legally be an adult at 18, but in reality, you’re still a kid. Your brain hasn’t even finished fully forming, and it won’t until you’re in your late 20s. This is just the beginning. Don’t feel like you need to know exactly what direction your life is going to take and exactly how you’re going to get there. One of the beautiful things about college is that you’re in the process of figuring out the many directions your life can take, and it will constantly evolve, even after you graduate. Keeping this in mind should take much of the pressure off.
The good news is that there are resources and activities you can try that can help you cope with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and any other negative feelings. In college, it is all too easy to get caught up in academics, extracurricular activities, and social events, but it is imperative that you attend to your mental health. Taking care of your mental health and developing healthy habits will set you up for academic, professional, and personal success in college and beyond.
Below are some strategies that can help you maintain your mental wellbeing in college. Give some of these a try.
1. Sleep. We know that sleep is a foreign concept to many college students. With all the classes, activities, and parties, who has time for sleep? We’ve all been there. But the fact is that college students typically need about 8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep is your body’s and mind’s way of recuperating and calming itself so that you feel focused, energetic, and centered during the day. Remember there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. If you’re spending 8 hours a day sleeping, you still have 112 waking hours a week. You can structure all of your assignments and activities during these 112 hours. Some apps that can help you out with scheduling and productivity include Evernote and Focus Booster. Still feeling like you can’t fit in 8 hours of sleep a night? Sneak in a nap between classes. Naps are a great way to give your body and mind a rest and to give yourself the energy boost you need during the day.
2. Eat well. With all-you-can-eat dining options, this can be a tough one. After all, you have all of your favorite foods at your fingertips all the time, and you can eat as much of it as you want. You might feel like you need to fill your plate in order to get your money’s worth. These are all fair points. You should absolutely enjoy all of your favorite foods. The key word is moderation. Start by taking small portions. If you’re still hungry, go back for more. And as tempting as it might be to eat the same thing every day, it is important to get some variety in your diet. A good rule of thumb is to eat all the colors of the rainbow each day. Your food affects your mood. A diet that consists primarily of sugars and fats can leave you feeling jittery and/or lethargic. Instead, try to get sufficient servings of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. If you’re looking for an app to help you out, try Fooducate and MyFitnessPal.
3. Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which help regulate stress and make you feel great, both physically and mentally. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, whether it be walking, jogging, biking, yoga, dance—whatever you fancy. If you want to find other folks to exercise with, there are plenty of sports- and exercise-based student organizations on campus with which you can get involved. If one doesn’t already exist, you can start one. Apps like FitBit, Nike+ and The Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout can help.
4. Moderate substance use. Many college students are exposed to alcohol use for the first time when they get to campus, and it can be easy to get carried away. Sure, a drink here and there can be fun and can taste good. But remember that the legal age of alcohol consumption is 21 years. If you intend to drink, please drink responsibly. Know your limits. If you start feeling a little off, stop drinking. Make sure you drink plenty of water (ideally 2 glasses for every glass of alcohol). It is also advisable to drink once you’ve had enough to eat. Keep an eye on your drinks at all times and do not accept drinks from strangers. When going out, go with people you trust. Most college students do not have cars on campus, but as a reminder, do NOT drink and drive. If you are intoxicated, rely on taxis, Uber, or Lyft or on designated drivers—friends in your group who agree to stay sober so that they can drive.
5. Socialize. In college, you’re going to meet so many new and interesting people from all over the world. Take advantage of the opportunity. Humans are social creatures. Similar to exercise, interacting with others releases endorphins in the brain. A strong support system is one of the best buffers against mental health issues. Surrounding yourself with good people who bring out the best in you and whose company you enjoy will work wonders for your mental health.
6. Make time for activities you enjoy. On any college campus, you’ll find a wealth of activities and student organizations with which you can get involved. Getting involved with extracurriculars is a great way to meet other people, to do things that make you happy, to build up your resume, and of course, to give you a much needed break from your studies. At first, the many options can be overwhelming, and you want to make sure that you’re not trying to cram too much in—that just takes all the fun out of it. Focus on one or two extracurriculars that you really enjoy each semester.
7. Volunteer. Serving others has numerous mental health benefits. It can help build your social network and help give your life more meaning, which in turn enhances your self-worth and self-esteem. Furthermore, doing good for others also releases endorphins in the brain.
8. Keep your college experience in perspective. Ideally, you should take your work seriously. But don’t take it too seriously. Remember that college is about so much more than academics—it is also a time of self-discovery. Do your best, but remember your grades do not define you. Your experiences in college and the memories you’ll come away with are worth so much more than your transcript, and will probably also serve you better in your professional life. Also remember that college is only 4 years of your life. It is certainly worthwhile to try to do as much as you can with those 4 years, but don’t forget that you have your whole life ahead of you. College is only the beginning.
9. Ask for help. College can be rough, but remember that you’re not alone. There are people and resources out there that will help you make this experience a successful one. Talk to your friends, your roommates, and your floormates. They’re probably feeling similarly to you. You can also reach out to your residential advisors and your campus’s counseling center for extra support. If you prefer something anonymous, you can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741. If you’re struggling with a class, talk to the professor or your TAs or find a tutor through the campus’s academic support center. Professors love it when students show interest and reach out for support. Again, if you prefer not to talk to someone at your own college, you can reach out to students at other colleges online. You can even be that student whom other students reach out to if they need support. Whatever issue you might be experiencing, you will find a way through it.
10. Have faith in yourself. You’ve already got this far. It wasn’t easy, but you found a way to push through. Getting into college is no easy feat, but you did it. You are smart and you are capable. You have it in you to cope with whatever challenges come your way.
If you’d like to chat more about college life, mental health, wellness, or anything else on your mind, join Konversai—the world’s greatest knowledge-sharing platform that enables one-on-one live video conversations between anyone, anywhere, about anything. Any and all knowledge, skills, experiences, and stories have a place on Konversai, no matter who you are or where you come from. If you’re in high school, you can use Konversai to connect with current college students and get the inside scoop on campus life that you’ll never be able to find in a guidebook or on the school’s website. If you’re a college student, you can share your experiences with prospective students, tutor other students, and learn from others. You don’t even have to be in college to be on Konversai. All you need is a device and an Internet connection, the knowledge, skills, and experiences you possess, and an eagerness to learn and connect with others. All users are encouraged to be both knowledge providers and knowledge seekers on Konversai. Knowledge providers are encouraged to charge as much as they would like for their time. If they don’t need the money, they can hold sessions for free or donate their earnings to a charity of their choice. Konversai aims to improve people’s lives by facilitating meaningful and impactful connections and conversations. Be part of that movement by joining Konversai today.
- American College Health Association. (2011). National College Health Assessment.
- Henriques, Gregg. (2014). The College Student Mental Health Crisis. Psychology Today.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2012). College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health.
- Sabatke, Sarah. (2016). Mental health on college campuses: A look at the numbers. USA Today.
- 5. WebMD. Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide.