I thought that college would be my saving grace. I told myself that if I could just make it to college, the depression, anxiety, and panic attacks that I had been experiencing since I was 7 years old would no longer burden me.
At first, I was right. During my first three months at the University of Florida, my mental health was doing better than it had in a long time. My grades were good without the pressure to be perfect weighing down on me like I had allowed it to do throughout middle and high school. I was involved on campus, working out three times a week, going to football games, and finally getting to have the life that I felt I had been missing out on. But I had simply buried my mental illness instead of addressing it.
After a sudden overwhelmingly stressful week, my mental and physical health crashed before Thanksgiving break. I decided it was best to go home to Orlando where I could finish my courses online and focus on my health.
Now I’m looking forward to heading back to campus in August with a better plan to manage my mental health, instead of avoiding it.
This is what I wish I had done differently last year, but am going to do in the Fall.
(1) Take your meds
This seems obvious, but I used to have a phobia of taking medication. Now my meds have made it easier for me to focus on school and my passions, instead of having to worry about my mental health. I recently downloaded Round Health, an app that reminds you when it’s time to take your meds, which is perfect for busy college students.
(2) Utilize the mental health services on campus
Unfortunately, college campuses are currently facing a nationwide mental health crisis, with too many students struggling and not enough counselors to support them. Nevertheless, find out what mental health services are offered on your campus, from counseling sessions to group therapy. There is nothing shameful about going to therapy and even people without mental illness can benefit from it.
(3) ...Or find a therapist locally or online
If your school doesn’t offer sufficient mental health services, there are a variety of other ways to seek help. There are many online or mobile counseling options, as well as local therapists who provide their services for little to no money for people without insurance.
(4) Build a support system
If you’re going to college locally, your family or friends might be part of your support system. But if you’re going 100 miles away or more like I did, getting involved on campus can help you make connections with new friends. However, your support system doesn’t have to include only people. You can support yourself through a self-care kit, your favorite stuffed animal, a playlist (I know everyone at Superbands is biased towards that one), or anything else that brings you comfort.
(5) Know your limits
You know how everyone told you at Preview not to take 16 credit hours, but you didn’t listen to them because you did AP in high school? I was that kid. If you know that you need over eight hours of sleep to function properly, try to avoid that 8am class. If you know that you need at least one day a week to spend in your dorm, resting, don’t sign up for too many on-campus clubs and organizations. Knowing your limitations and needs will let you set yourself up for success.
(6) Have a plan
Even when your mental health is managed, the added stress of college may still affect you, and it’s okay if it does. Instead of fearing for a relapse, make a plan on how you will deal with a depressive episode, panic attack, or poor mental health day. This could include having a designated friend to call, having a night of self-care, or going home for the weekend, if that’s what you need.
It is entirely possible to make college the best years of your life, even with mental health issues. Figure out what is best for your mental healthcare routine and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I’ll be rockin’ on at UF soon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Mackey is a sophomore public relations major with a concentration in nonprofit organizational leadership at the University of Florida. She is currently the Public Relations Manager at Superbands. On campus, Lauren is a member of UF PRSSA. Lauren plans to pursue a career in public relations and social media management at a nonprofit organization or social change communication agency. When she’s not tweeting for Superbands, Lauren enjoys listening to music, watching Gator football, and trying out fun workout classes with her friends on campus.