Starting college means a growing anticipation to dive into the four-year journey of self-exploration. It will bring new faces, new experiences, and shed light on subjects you may become passionate about. There will be some fear too, though, and some self-doubt that may disrupt the routine you've had your entire life.
It's hard to imagine coping with every issue handed to you, from choosing classes to learning how to study to maybe living away from home. Everything starts coming in waves, one crashing after another, and sometimes it can be hard to catch your breath.
College is a place to push out of your comfort zone, which can be wonderful and terrifying at the same time. There is a fine line between healthy and dangerous amounts of discomfort that can corrupt your mental stability.
Most college students don't like to admit that their mental health isn't putting on its best performance 100 percent of the time. Insecurity sets in, and because of the stigma around mental health issues and lack of communication, a student can feel isolated.
According to statistics published in January in USA Today, 60.5 percent of college students report having felt alone in the past year, and 49.5 percent of students report having felt hopeless in the past year.
Universities are becoming aware that mental issues are growing in the college setting and more often than not, they have their own psychological health centers where the university provides free one-on-one therapy with a professional.
These facilities aren't usually prioritized on campus tours, but deserve to be spoken about. At schools such as the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, the facilities fall under the name of Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS.
CAPS provides counselors, psychiatrists, phone services, and hotline numbers that run 24 hours for emergencies. Visiting CAPS can be beneficial to a student who needs help with balancing college life and mental stability.
Isabel Cusack, a rising junior at the University of Michigan, says she visited CAPS at the end of freshman year, "trying to come to terms with feelings of loneliness, anxiety problems, and other issues dealing with school.
"I can't express how helpful it was to be able to talk to someone who could really listen and understand what was going on," Cusack says. "It seems to be a common theme that many people don't have people to listen to them or have encounters with people who either don't believe that they're struggling or look down on them for feeling stressed or sad."
CAPS is a wonderful resource, Cusack says, adding that she's recommended it to friends who were having issues with their emotional health.
U-M graduate Alexandra Scharf, who sought help from CAPS during her four years of undergraduate studies, says that, looking back, she "waited way too long to go in."
"I've become more and more vocal about my mental health and about all young people's mental health over the past couple of years, but the stigma associated with taking time away from academics and extracurriculars to get help is very real," Scharf says. "Recognizing that my well-being mattered more than any paper or project or deadline was a crucial step in an ongoing journey to manage my depression and anxiety."
And personally, as a student at U-M who looked into CAPS as well, this is all true. Struggling with a mental disability in college can be so difficult because of all the pressure: Pressure from homework, extracurriculars, planning ahead, money, and simply maintaining a social life, is sometimes too hard to handle.
When you have the weight of the world on your shoulders because every opportunity presented to you is new, exciting, and beneficial, mental health seems like something you have to give up on or deal with alone.
No one is alone in that struggle, which is why university resources should be recognized and used to your advantage. Your school counselors are paid to help you feel better and to help you find a solution to put some of the built-up stress.
But these programs do not get the funding they deserve, and living in an increasingly competitive world only means an increase in mental disorders. This creates a skyrocketing demand for facilities like CAPS, but the supply stays just below enough. The wait time for CAPS after I inquired about setting up an appointment was three weeks. Three weeks is a long time to wait when your brain starts delaying actions necessary to function, like getting out of bed, eating, even taking a shower — but that wait doesn't have to be full of dread.
Some of the alternative coping mechanisms that worked for me were: talking to someone I love about how I was feeling, exercising, listening to video game soundtracks while I studied (they are composed to make a listener feel calm and focused on the task at hand), taking a study break to read something I enjoy, and trying as hard as I could to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
Your stress could even stem from something as simple as trying to do too much at once, which happens more often since you're going to a place that is created to cater to all interests.
Some students are built to handle an 18-credit semester, while others do well with just 12 — there is no issue in either. You just have to figure out what you can handle. And also: Don't compare yourself and your abilities to others, because everyone's brain works differently.
You have four years or more of attending school, so maybe you shouldn't join every club that interests you during the first semester. But let's say you do take too many credits and you do join too many clubs: You can always talk to your professors and classmates and explain why it's in your best interest to stop attending that class or club.
If I learned anything about mental health and college, it's that you have to express your feelings, and once you do, people are willing to do whatever it takes to help you. Talk to someone at a facility your university offers, and talk to your professors and your friends, because you are not alone. College is a tough transition, and there is nothing more important than your mental well-being. There is nothing more important than you.
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