Tips for Surviving College (With a Mental Illness)
Don’t compare yourself to other students. Just don’t do it. Because of your mental health, there will always be things that are more difficult for you than other students. Waking up early, keeping track of assignments, staying focused and motivated, socializing outside of class, joining clubs. All of these are things that can be harder for students with mental illness. It’s important to just pay attention to yourself and make sure you’re meeting the goals you set for yourself.
Walk as much as you can. Go for short walks around campus, walk to class instead of taking the bus or driving, walk around the library in between studying. Just get up and walk. It’s important to get in exercise where you can and walking is a great way to boost endorphins.
Know the attendance policy for each of your classes. Within the first week of class try to figure out how each professor takes attendance. Is it at the beginning of class, end of class? Is there a seating chart (seriously) or is it just writing in your name? Is there a daily quiz? Perfect attendance isn’t always attainable so it’s important to know not only how many days you can miss or be late, but how you can get around that. If you’re just having a bad mental health day it’s good to know when you can get a friend to sign you in so you don’t lose attendance points.
Have a “backup buddy” in each of your classes. On the first day of class or at least before the first test, make sure you get the phone number and email of two classmates. Not only is it good to meet new people, these are the people who will be your lifeline. Did you miss class or just completely zone out and need the notes? Do you need someone to sign you in? Did you abandon your bullet journal and forget all of the due dates? It’s crucial that you have TWO people you can reach (in case one or the other can’t help you) when you have a question you can’t ask your professor.
Know your professors!!! Introduce yourself first day of class (so it can be short and sweet) or go during office hours (so there aren’t a lot of people). Professors are a lot more willing to help you out if you’ve at least tried to establish a relationship with them. You’ll be closer with some more than others but if you ever have to send out a panicked email it’s important your professor can put a face to the name. If you ever have an emergency and need an extension it’s a lot more likely to get one this way. Bonus: also get to know your TA or GA if they’re the ones grading your assignments.
Take your medicine, see your therapist/psychiatrist. College is too stressful to go without the medical treatment that you need. If you can’t afford treatment, most universities have counseling clinics where you can get free or cheap treatment from grad students. Many university health centers also have psychiatrists you can see cheaply. At my university I see a grad student LPC for free and get to see a psychiatrist for $10 an appointment. Your therapist can also write letters in case your professor or school needs proof of treatment or anything like that.
Register with your school’s disability services. I’ve met a lot of students with depression or anxiety who had no idea that disability could apply to them. Mental illness is a disability! Registering with Disability is invaluable. You can get access to tutoring, support groups, peer mentors, and most importantly: accommodations. If you get really bad test anxiety you can arrange to take your test privately either proctored by someone in disability services or in your professor’s office. Extensions can sometimes be made for assignments in case you have an emergency like a panic attack or other life disrupting episode.
Whether you need accommodation or not, I strongly urge you to register with disability in case something happens. If you need to drop your classes or were unable to and end up failing because of your health, being registered with disability can mean your bad semester can be “forgiven,” essentially meaning you can go on medical leave.
Have a family member or friend for a support system. Outside of your therapist or DS, have someone who you can vent to. Have someone to buy you ice cream and tell you everything is going to be okay. Have someone who can tell you you’re beautiful and perfect the way you are, whether that’s your mom or even someone on tumblr. There are people all around who care about you.
Know that you are wonderful and brave and have already accomplished so much just by getting into college. About 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness: you are not alone. Even if it might feel like you’re the only one having a hard time, there are hundreds of students all around you going through the same thing.