How To Survive College When You Have a Mental Illness

It’s 8:30 am, your alarm goes off. Again. You’ve snoozed your way through the morning, hoping for just five more minutes of sleep. As your head lifts off of the pillow, you wrestle with the consequences of skipping class just this once. But it’s never just once. Every college student is familiar with this kind of morning, where time moves slowly, and fatigue is unforgiving. But what happens when one bad morning becomes two, and then turns into a week, or spirals into a month? What happens when the simple task of waking up or taking a shower, even doing your homework is too much to handle? This is a reality for many college students who suffer from mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “85% of college students reported they had felt overwhelmed” and “24.5% of college students reported they were taking psychotropic medication.” Mental illness among young adults is common. Often times, compounding mental illness with school and work can feel unmanageable. However, there are ways to manage your depression and anxiety to make school and life more enjoyable.

School Sponsored Therapy

Many colleges around the United States offer free or discounted counseling (the University of Utah offers discounted appointments). Therapy can be a very helpful tool when dealing with mental illness. College counselors especially are equipped with different techniques to help student life feel more manageable. 


Communicate with Your Professors

Often times, the thought of sharing personal struggles with people around you can seem uncomfortable. However, direct communication with your professors, or in some cases the disability office, may reduce stress within your course. The Disability Center on campus have different accommodations for students suffering from mental illnesses, and professors are usually willing to discuss a different course of action to help you get the most out of the class.  


Positive Thinking and Self Talk

I know it can be taboo to talk about thinking positively when it comes to mental illness. Depression and anxiety are mental disorders caused by imbalances in the brain, and no amount of positive self-talk will completely eliminate a mental disorder. Nevertheless, there is power in believing and telling yourself things will get better. Coping mechanisms work differently for every person, but something as simple as actively trying to eliminate negative thoughts can make a large impact. Self-affirmations, validating one’s feelings, and simple meditation techniques are small tasks that can make a world of difference. 


Keep a Planner

This one is as simple as it sounds. Keeping track of deadlines, homework, and important dates can significantly decrease stress and help manage the day to day life. A side effect of depression and other mental illnesses is what some call “fog brain,” which can cause forgetfulness, disassociation, and a lack of concentration. Planners are an easy way to remember and organize daily tasks when your brain feels out of touch. It might also be beneficial to track mood swings, sleeping patterns, and other emotions in order to find patterns or triggers in day to day life. 


There will be off days

While there are infinite ways to keep your mental illness at bay, there will also be days when it is too much to handle. College is challenging without the added stress of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, some days will feel impossible, but as someone who has struggled with depression for many years, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to not be okay. You might miss a class, or two, you may forget about an assignment, and you will inevitably beat yourself up over little things you could have done differently. It is important to remember, however, that your mishaps do not define you. Pick yourself back up. Take it one step at a time. Most importantly, forgive yourself. School is hard, life is harder, but you are stronger than you think. 


Living with mental illness can feel impossible at times. It can be a balancing act to get through each day. So, when it all gets too much, and you feel like you can’t go on, take your shoes off, go outside, breathe in the air, feel the grass under your feet, and give your mind a break. After all, you are still here, fighting the good fight, and surviving it all.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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