This is not the typical guide on how to tackle your first year of college, but one on how to cope and even excel during your college years while living with a mental illness. As a senior in college suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, I have important advice to share that I wish was given to me prior to entering college. Mental illness is a disorder and not a decision, but here are some factors you can make decisions on:
In choosing the location of your school, there are a few things to look at beyond the academics. When you suffer from mental illness, it is common to find comfort and support from being around friends and family. If this is the case, you may want to choose a school close to home. However not everyone finds support or comfort from being close to family, and there are situations where maybe going away from home can take away stress and make life easier.
Make a careful evaluation of what contributes to your issues and what helps you feel better; (being aware of your "uppers" and "downers" in life.) While you may not be able to control all the factors contributing to your mental or emotional state, there are external factors that you can control, including the location of the school, and what comes along with it like...
There are some people that suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and would like to prevent the "winter blues" and live in a sunny area. If you are prone to depressant moods, being aware of the typical weather is crucial to your state of mind. According to Dr. Norman Sussman, professor of psychiatry and director of Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU, "light interacts with brain serotonin systems in people, and may affect serotonin-related behaviors like mood and impulsiveness." If this usually does not affect you, then skip this step and go on to setting.
Setting: City Vs. Country
In the city, the atmosphere is a bit more frenetic. Noise, pollution, crowds and distractions can exacerbate your state of mind. On the other hand, a country setting may make you feel isolated and far away from an environment that suits your personality. According to The Guardian, "the brains of people living in cities operate differently from those in rural areas, according to a brain-scanning study. Scientists found that two regions, involved in the regulation of emotion and anxiety, become overactive in city-dwellers when they are stressed and argue that the differences could account for the increased rates of mental health problems seen in urban areas."
Okay, you selected a school that is a suitable location.
2. Living at College:
There are dorms that are designated for certain social preferences. LGBT, Dry living (absolutely no alcohol), co-ed versus gender-specific, honors, athletes are just some options available at many colleges. Surround yourself with people you can relate to and who can potentially be supportive during times of personal crisis.
3. Participation in campus life:
It is important to surround yourself with people you can relate to who can respect you and your space. Be aware that drinking or recreational drugs can have a negative impact on your psyche. While it is important to socialize, be aware that these things can have a more harmful impact on you than your peers. Exercise may make you feel better. In that case, you should find friends that can encourage you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
4. Counseling Services:
Find out about the school's counseling center. According to "USA Today," 1 in every 10 students is getting mental health counseling on campus. So I would say, you are not alone. Seeking counseling should be a free service, open to every student and faculty member. Taking initiative is important; so do not be scared of what other people will think of you if you seek counsel. The service is anonymous and they are there to help you.
During my time in college, I have experienced two medical withdrawals. Being aware of the programs and services that were available right when I enrolled could have prevented my hiatus from university.
If you are on prescribed medication, make sure you take it according to your doctor's orders. Also, some medications can have negative or dangerous reactions when mixed with alcohol. Please remember that medications are not meant to be shared. If you have prescription meds, make sure they are not accessible to others as unfortunately, some students take medications for recreational use, which is highly illegal.
This is an important time in your life, so make sure you think through your choice of schools carefully. The suggestions of a parent or friend may be helpful, but only you know what it's like to live inside your "head." Although a mental illness can be debilitating, it is important to be aware of the steps you can take to alleviate the pain so that you that you can accomplish your goals and perhaps ultimately find a happier, healthier mental state.
By, Sarah Levy
(For a more stories, see Sarah Levy's blog on DiplomatArtist.com: "Treating Mental Illness like the Chronic Illness It Is")