How to Survive College with Mental Illness


College is a crazy, stressful time of life for pretty much everyone. You’re out in the “real world” for the first time, learning how to do adult things, trying to make friends, pass your classes, keep your finances in check, and figure out who exactly you are, what you want in life, and how to get there. It’s a season of excitement and growth but can be overwhelming for many.

Add mental illness on top of all this, and you’ve got a potential recipe for a major stress tornado. A stress-nado.

The good news is, it’s possible to thrive as a college student even with mental health issues. You’ve just got to put in some extra planning and set yourself up for success. From a fellow mentally-ill college student who’s learned by trial and error herself, here is some advice on how to survive college with mental health issues:

Get support

A solid support system is important for everyone to have, but it’s especially important for those of us with mental health issues. A support system is a group of people who you can count on to be there for you, listen to you, and lift you up. If you don’t have a lot of people you can trust like this in your life, try building on a friendship you currently have. Encourage honest discussion about how you each are doing. Ask for help when you need it. Let them know you want to be there for them, too.

Take advantages of your school’s resources

Most colleges have health and counseling centers that can provide low-cost counseling, referrals, and other resources for students. You may also want to request accommodations for your condition, which you can do through your school’s disability resource center. Check with your school to see what kinds of help are available to you. Remember, there are people at your school whose job it is to help you succeed- let them!

Have a plan in place

Put together a plan, preferably with your therapist or other mental health professional, for how you will manage your mental illness specifically with the challenges that college brings. In your plan, you may want to include:

  • Your symptoms and the signs that your mental illness is flaring up
  • Possible triggers that may arise in college
  • Coping skills that you can use
  • People you can call for support
  • Hotlines and what you would do in a crisis, if necessary

Practice self-care

Self-care is another essential ingredient to your mental and overall well-being in college and beyond. You have probably heard the quote, “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” and it’s so true. Prioritize your health and incorporate self-care into your everyday schedule, no matter how busy it gets. Take breaks. Meditate. Stretch. Go outside. Walk or run. Journal. Go to therapy. Eat healthy foods. Get enough sleep (seriously.) Your body and mind will thank you when you take the time to care for yourself.

Do you have more advice for surviving college with mental illness? Give your tips in the comments, and share this post to help other students!


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