College age is also about the time that some difficult mental health issues can arise in people, such as bipolar and schizophrenia – exacerbated by the stresses that are part of college or any transition.
These are serious mental health problems that require professionals, but other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and addiction are parts of the transition process that many college offer resources to handle.
- Be active: Make use of the college gym facilities. A healthy lifestyle makes for improved cognitive functioning and can counter that Freshman 15. It can also be a place to meet new people.
- Explore: This can be a part of being active. Running, jogging or walking around your new campus or city/town gives you the chance to get comfortable and knowledgeable about your surroundings and give it a sense of home. Find things to do off campus. Connect with locals or returning students to get in the scoop on things to do and places to avoid.
- Follow your interests: Colleges offer intramural sports – a chance to play some sports not offered in high school – and many other organizations that can give you a chance to meet people with similar interests and different backgrounds. There's nothing wrong with testing your interests and deciding against it later if it's not a good match for you.
- Maintain relationships: With your parents and friends back home. They've known you for the longest and may notice you acting differently before you realize it.
- Create/Maintain traditions: New friends doesn't have to mean that Taco Tuesday doesn't happen anymore. Traditions provide a sense of comfort. It also can be a good time to pick up Sushi Sunday or whatever you need.
- Be serious/be fun: If college is a little bit about finding yourself, then this is a good time to check in with yourself. Gauging your own anxiety about your studies can let you know when you need to put in more effort and take things more seriously or if have the ability to lighten up with the studying to follow your other interests or give yourself a break.
- Be safe: Alcohol and drugs are a part of college and now is a good time to develop a healthy relationship (if you use) with your vices – if you aren't abstaining – so that they remain a source of fun and unwinding. Alcohol and drug use are linked to violence – particularly sexual assault – and developing the skills to manage your use now can pay dividends. It helps to have friends you can trust to look out for you and you for them and friends who you can hang out with who prefer to do something other than drinking on a Friday and Saturday night.
- Use your college mental health resources. Even if it's just a few sessions, talking with someone about difficulties and concerns can be helpful and the office should be able to refer if you need more than the mental health resources there can manage.
College is a very exciting time, but there is a lot at stake. Stay ahead of the curve and find the simple things to do now to ward off pitfalls, rather than having to pick yourself up after. Many of the above ideas are about not feeling isolated or alone in a strange town in a strange dorm with a strange roommate, but have the added benefit of getting the most out of your next 4 years and more bang for the buck that you and/or your parents are paying.
This Topic of the Week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.