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The transition to college is a different experience for everyone, but it can be particularly difficult for college students who are managing a mental illness. Approximately one in four adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. For many students, this is their first time living away from home. However, this independence comes with new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. While this is an exciting time for some college students, it can be daunting for students dealing with some type of mental illness.
Lessons from the pandemic for higher education
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for higher education leaders who have sought how best to support students with the resources they need to manage mental health issues. As campuses closed, campus mental health resources were unavailable. This lack of accessibility shined a spotlight on the need for institutions to prioritize how to care for student mental health both on and off campus.
Ways that college students can manage mental health
Prioritizing mental health has proven to be a necessity during the coronavirus outbreak. Even when campus mental health services are unavailable, students still need ways to manage their mental well-being.
Below are recommendations for managing mental health — whether students are on or off campus.
1. Take care of health and well-being
Good physical health has a direct correlation to increased mental well-being. To prioritize mental and physical health, incorporate healthy foods, physical activity, and social support into daily life. Understanding the connection between mind and body helps in effectively managing mental health care. These mental health and exercise recommendations from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are a good place to start.
2. Effectively manage time
Effective time management during the pandemic proved to be a critical skill, as students faced a learning environment with more distractions. Academic performance relies on healthy time management. It’s important to not only manage time but also energy and mental wellness. Using a time management app helps to stay organized before tasks begin piling up. Developing a consistent schedule not only helps reduce everyday stressors but improves overall mental well-being.
3. Keep track of mental health concerns
When a student’s college schedule gets busy, it’s easy to lose track of what may be happening with mental health issues. Maintaining a journal to track mental health concerns helps to stay in tune with feelings and emotions. However, if negative feelings and symptoms are getting worse, students should seek immediate mental health support from health professionals.
4. Surround yourself with good people (even if it’s virtually)
The college mental health crisis only became more pronounced for college students during the pandemic. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation came to the surface for many students who could no longer engage in the campus community with friends. This lack of social interaction caused depressive thoughts for many. A Harvard Youth Poll found that 51% of young adults felt down, depressed, or hopeless. Thankfully, a return to campus is expected to come as vaccine distribution continues to expand, and students have found many ways to connect virtually with friends and family members over the past year. Video platforms like Zoom are now a common way to connect for virtual events, such as happy hours, movie nights, dinner dates, and game nights. A survey by TimelyCare found that 39% of students hope to continue using Zoom and FaceTime to connect with loved ones even after the pandemic.
5. Practice mindfulness
College is stressful and fast-paced, making it easy to feel disconnected from your own needs. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to not only relieve stress but improve memory and focus. Meditation has also been shown to help anxiety disorders and enhance mental health treatment. When students are feeling stressed, these recommendations for mindfulness or meditation can be helpful. The Jed Foundation (JED) offers more information and resources on mindfulness for students.
6. Avoid drug and alcohol use
Many young people turn to alcohol and substance use to self-medicate. While struggling with a mental illness does not directly cause substance abuse, it can lead to it. Instead of seeking mental health treatment, some students use drugs and alcohol to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health condition. Substances may offer short-term relief of symptoms but cause detrimental long-term effects in the long-term. Drugs and alcohol can worsen or trigger symptoms, leading to more mental health problems.
7. Find ways to get involved
Nonprofits around the world are working to problem-solve and develop innovative solutions for the public health crisis. Harvard Medical School published an article stating that “volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected,” which can help decrease loneliness and depressive thoughts. And the pandemic even created new ways to volunteer and give time to worthy causes through virtual methods.
8. Utilize mental health services
The stigma of seeking mental health treatment from a counseling center is real for many students. However, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Students need to give themselves and others the space to work through how to best manage their mental health. Dr. Jan Hall, executive director of mental health at TimelyCare, suggests this: “If a student tries a new mental health strategy, they should adjust the idea and make it work for them and give themselves encouraging messages to make even small steps toward their goals.”
Student mental health support anytime, anywhere
Take action to support the mental health of students
College and university presidents continue to say students’ mental health is their top priority. However, the latest Student Voice survey found that 47% of students say they could have used some (28%) or a lot (19%) more support from their college during the pandemic. Higher education leaders need to find ways to expand access to mental health services and improve campus health literacy to ensure students are equipped with resources to maintain their health and well-being. The same student survey found that only 15% of students engaged in college-offered counseling in the past year. College and university leaders must bridge the gap between prioritizing student mental health and providing the right mix of mental health services and resources that students will utilize to improve their well-being.
Fill gaps in mental health care with telehealth
Telehealth services are one way that higher education institutions can provide access to mental health resources that optimizes existing campus resources while filling gaps in care. TimelyCare is focused on supporting the health and well-being of colleges and universities, and that includes mental health resources for students like on-demand emotional support, appointment-based counseling, and psychiatry. Learn more about our commitment to transforming healthcare on college campuses and improving student outcomes.