34 Mental Health Tips Every Incoming Freshman Needs to Hear


Going to college changes…well, almost everything. For many incoming students, it’s their first time living away from home, managing their diets, having a flexible schedule and being away from family and childhood friends. While the transition can be hard for everyone, college also marks an age when mental health issues can start to arise. Half of all serious adult psychiatric illnesses – including major depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse – start by 14 years of age, according to a study released by Arch Gen Psychiatry. Three-fourths of them are present by age 25.

But the sad reality is this: The 18-24 year old age group shows the lowest rate of help-seeking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Psychological Association.

But it doesn’t have to be this way — there are things you can do to take care of your mental health in college. The Mighty teamed up with Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health, and asked, What mental health advice would you give to incoming college freshman?” The answers, from people who’ve been there, can help if you’re an incoming freshman with mental health concerns or any college student interested in taking care of your brain.

Consider this your first lesson:

1. “Don’t feel like you need to abide by anyone else’s plan; if you graduate in five and a half years instead of four because you take a course load you can handle successfully, it’s worth so much more than four years of misery and half-learning.” — Abby Naumann

2. “If you have a free counseling center on campus, then by all means utilize it. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m struggling with…’ and go!” — Annette McClellan

3. “Focus on yourself rather than your degree. Education can always wait, but mental health isn’t as patient.” — Eleanor Harvey

"Focus on yourself rather than your degree. Education can always wait, but mental health isn't as patient."

4. “Identify your 3-2-1: Three things you can do when you feel anxious/depressed (like go for a walk, take deep breaths, listen to music), two people you could talk to when you feel anxious/depressed and one promise to yourself like, ‘I promise to take care of myself. My health and happiness is important.’” — Julia Powers

5. “Drugs and alcohol are not a replacement for getting real help with mental illness. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” — Tiffany Worland

6. “Call your mom!” — Linda Hall Ashley

Call your mom.

7. “If you were in counseling before, continue with it. It’s better to start college off with a support system than realize during the year you’re in trouble.” — Kristen Stanton

8. “Know you are enough. It’s OK to make mistakes and have doubts. You most likely aren’t alone on your campus when it comes to mental illness. The more I opened up about it, the quicker I was able to find my true friends and the best support system I could have ever asked for.”  Erin Cochran

9. “It’s OK to walk away from your work. If you walk away (literally), allow yourself to get some fresh air. Drink some tea, read a book, watch a movie. Never forget to take a break!” — Clairice Kalkhof

10. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Self-care is key.” — Krysta Lee Deranick

Don't forget to take care of yourself. Self-care is key.

11. Don’t waste time on how your experience ‘should’ be, but work towards strengthening yourself during this truly life-changing time.” — Cait Woodward

12. “Join a club you never saw yourself joining. Meet new friends who look different than you. Don’t be afraid to branch beyond your comfort zone. These relationships will be key in dealing with any stress that comes.”  — Ashley Brooner

13. “Sleep. Please make time to sleep. Life seems so much harder when you’re exhausted.”  — Katie Hall

Sleep. Please make time to sleep. Life seems so much harder when you're exhausted.

14. “If you feel like you’re in trouble, ask for help. A friend, professor, counselor, dorm advisor — there are so many resources at your fingertips that could save you.” — Emma M Pratt

15. “Set up a time to talk with and develop a relationship with your Residence Advisor.” — Nan Ann

16. “Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone has mental health. It’s your responsibility to take care of your mental health.” Andrea Nguyen

Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone has mental health. It's your responsibility to take care of your mental health."

17. If you had a therapist you saw regularly at home, talk to them about helping you find another therapist near school. Look into it, and don’t just abruptly stop therapy — even if you think you can handle it  because college is tough and treatment should continue.” — Alyse Ruriani

18. Give yourself a break if you find yourself struggling to adjust. This is new and it’ll take time to get in the swing of things. Talk to people with more college experience like student mentors and try to have realistic expectations for yourself.” — Lauren Grnbrg

19. “Trust your gut if something feels wrong. Don’t let people tell you it’s just the stress of a life change.” — Meah Berry

Trust your gut if something feels wrong. Don't let people tell you it's just the stress of a life change.

20. “Don’t compare yourself to others because everyone works at different paces and has different needs. Congratulate yourself when you do well. Take all the time you need — if it takes you a little longer to complete the course, that’s OK.”— Annabelle Edge

21. “Deal with whatever you find distressing as soon as you can. Don’t put a hold on your mental well-being.” — Gabriela Constantin-Dureci

22. “Be aware of what resources are available to you both on and off campus. Does your college have a counseling center? Where is it, when is it open and do you need to make an appointment? Does your college have a disability resource center? Are there accommodations you can receive from them? Make a list of your resources so that you can easily find the information you need.”  — Angeline Nguyen

23. Know when to say no. A night in can be a chance to recharge your batteries.” — Christie Marie

Know when to say no. A night in can be a chance to recharge your batteries.

24. “Tell at least three people you trust a little bit about ‘your’ story. Opening up to others who are in close proximity is absolutely vital. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you have a lot in common.”  Maryann Edgerley

25. “Allow yourself time every day to relax.” — Alex Nicole

26. “Take on only what you can handle. Only do what feels right for you. Don’t worry about anyone else. It’s your life, take care of it.” — Bunnie A Kelly

27. “Don’t be hard on yourself.” — Gerry Dougherty

Don't be hard on yourself.

28. “Campuses generally have a service called Disability Support Services. If you have a diagnosed mental health issue, you can take a doctor’s note to them and they’ll help you get help in your classes. If you get anxious taking tests, they can have your teachers move you to a quiet room and give you extra time. If you are depressed and miss some days, they can help you get caught up and not suffer bad grades. On those days when you just can’t, Disability Support Services can.” — Jessica Lynn Sprayberry

29. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of your disability, because you can! Trust me!” — Amy Walsh

30. “Don’t try to do it on your own.”  — Terrie Page

Don't try to do it on your own.

31. “Please know that there is no ‘right’ way to experience college. When I started, I had so many people tell me if I didn’t live on campus or do things a certain way, I would miss out on the college experience. Well the truth is, everyone can create their own college experience.”  Marie Lynne

32. “Build a strong support system before heading off to school.” — Domonique Grant

33. “Be your own advocate. Speak to professors — they’re only human, too.” — Torie Keeton

34. “Don’t buy into the stigma.” — Jeffrey Chavez

Don't buy into the stigma.

 What would you add? Tell us in the comments below. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

To learn information about getting involved in your school’s Active Minds chapter —or starting your own — click here.

*Some answers have been shortened and/or edited.

Editor’s note: This advice cannot replace talking to your doctor about the best way to take care of your mental illness in college.

34 Mental Health Tips Every Incoming Freshman Needs to Hear



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Why These Depressed Cookies Are Good for Mental Health

frowny face cookie
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

While it might be unnerving to see a cookie cry, these cookie are frowning for a good cause. They’re part of The Depressed Cake Shop, a pop-up bake shop that donates all of its proceeds to mental health efforts. 

U.K.-based creative director Emma Thomas cooked up the original concept in August of 2013. Her vision was a bake-sale style fundraiser that sold exclusively gray cakes, cookies and goodies, and brought awareness and funds to mental health causes.

It’s about challenging stigmas and labels,” Thomas says on the Depressed Cake Shop’s website. “When someone says ‘cupcake,’ you think pink icing and sprinkles. When someone says ‘mental health,’ an equally unimaginative stereotype will pop into most minds. By having gray cakes, we’re challenging the expected and getting people to challenge the labels they put on those who suffer with a mental illness.”

Originally conceived as a one time stint, the project soon took a life of its own after some passionate volunteers decided to bring it to America, Valerie Van Galder, one of the shop’s self-proclaimed “ringleaders,” told The Mighty.

“There’s something about it,” she said. “We kind of couldn’t stop.”

donuts with black frosting
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

Van Galder, a successful film studio executive in Hollywood, is now one of the “co-conspirators” who’ve continued the shop’s legacy. Her life changed drastically when her father, who had bipolar disorder, had a psychotic break after her mom died of cancer. Her colleagues were understanding when her mom was sick, but her father’s illness was a different story. Without support and feeling unable to open up about her situation, she quit a high-level position to take care of her dad.

It was during this time she discovered The Depressed Cake Shop.

cookies with frowny faces
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop

She immediately contacted the shop, and although she didn’t make it to London, found someone in Los Angeles who was interested in organizing with her. She was in business.

“I wanted to channel my sadness into purpose. I want to do something about it,” she said. “I took something really scary that actually cost me my career and turned it around until something positive.”

Now, Depressed Cake Shops have popped up everywhere from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston to Australia and India, and have raised more than $60,000 for various mental health causes. The shop’s gray goodies were sold at a special screening of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and at a performance of “This is My Brave” in Boston. 

Each location supports a different, usually local mental health charity or organization. Many of the cakes were designed and donated by bakers who have personal experience or a connection with depression or other mental health issues, and baked goods are often unique. But mostly, the project has created a community of bakers and organizers who are passionate about finding creative ways to bring awareness to mental health issues.

“I’ve met other people like me,” Van Galder said. “I feel like I’m in an army.”

gray macaroons with rainclouds
photo: The Depressed Cake Shop
Van Galder and The Depressed Cake Shop will be in Orange County, California this Saturday, August 15. All proceeds will go to the Mental Health Association of Orange County. For more information, visit their Facebook page.


Girl Scouts Can Now Earn a Mental Health Awareness Patch


girl scout mental health awareness patch At the age when many young girls get “the talk,” learn about their bodies and experience the glories of puberty, not often do they get a chance to learn about their brains. Now, in an effort to educate young girls about just that, Girl Scouts can earn a patch in mental health awareness.

The program was created by the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), and while it originated with Girl Scouts, the patch is available to all scouting organizations, including American Heritage Girls, Girl Guides and others, according IBPF’s website.

All ranks of Girl Scouts — Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes and Seniors — can earn the patch, with specific activities for certain age groups.

Scouts in the program will learn the impact of mental health, discuss the definition of stigma, learn about successful people who have experienced mental illness, research how mental health is portrayed in the media and create anti-stigma campaign activities.

They’ll also have opportunities to invite a mental health professional to speak to their troop and explore what mental health resources are available at their school and community.

With older girls, some might be struggling with these issues themselves,” Heather Zupin, content manager for the International Bipolar Foundation, told The Chicago Tribune. “For them, our goal is that they won’t be afraid to ask for help if they need it and that they know how to get that help. For younger girls, it’s more about learning how to treat everyone and reinforcing that you don’t know what people are dealing with so you should be nice to everyone.”

So far, 4,000 girls have participated, Zupin told The Tribune.

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A Mother and Daughter's Unexpected Path to Mental Health Recovery


After a tough move to a new state, Rebecka Green started skipping breakfast. Then, she ate a small lunch at school. One day when she stepped on the scale, the then seventh grader realized she’d lost 20 pounds.

front cover of the book 'her lost year' by tabita green and rebecka green

“Then it became an obsession, and I started to restrict on purpose,” she says in the Kickstarter video for the book “Her Lost Year,” written by Rebecka and her mom, Tabita Green.

She told her parents she was feeling depressed, and doctors quickly put her on anti-depressants. With one prescription, the Greens were launched into the mental health world of hospitalizations, therapists, psychiatrists and more medicine.

“Her Lost Year,” which was published this July, tells the story of this journey — a family navigating its way in a disjointed mental health system, where medication is prescribed to offset the symptoms of medication and hope is sometimes hard to find. But after Rebecka’s full recovery, which involved going off all medication, Tabita decided to publish their story, hoping to give others hope and share her vision of a better mental health system.

The Mighty talked to Rebecka and Tabita about this journey, how it changed their relationship with each other and what they learned about our mental health system.

The Mighty: Why did you decide to open up about your story? Was it a difficult decision?

Rebecka: It took a course of a few months for me to come to terms with it. I’m still coming to terms with it. But it became easier to accept once I realized sharing my story would help many people.

quote from Tabita Green: 'I wanted to give others a story of hope. This isn't the message that we got.' Tabita: For me, it was a way to process what happened. Her recovery was so remarkable and so different than what we thought, I wanted to get this story out and let others know there’s an alternative narrative to what you hear in the media and pop culture. I wanted to give others a story of hope. This isn’t the message that we got. Everything felt really permanent, like our only option was to get the right medication mix that would fix the “problem.”

The Mighty: Tabita, what was going through your head when all this started?

Tabita: I hoped it was a phase, maybe it was hormones or something that would just go away. As a parent you don’t want to think there’s anything wrong with your kid.

The Mighty: What surprised you about the mental health system?

Tabita: We originally decided to go down the therapy route. It just seemed more severe to go to a psychiatrist than a therapist. One of the surprises was how quickly the therapist suggested she go on medication.

Another surprise was how disjointed the system was. There wasn’t any communication between, for example, the pediatrician and the therapist. When she was released from the hospital, we were really on our own. At that point, I had taken a leave of absence to sort all that out.

quote from Tabita Green: 'When she was released from the hospital, we were really on our own.' The biggest, most extreme surprise was when we realized she was having so many symptoms because of the medication. It took us a while to put two and two together. From the anti-depressants she was put on originally she was having hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, mania… Then they added additional medications to take care of those symptoms instead of getting to the root of the cause.

This is why I wrote the book. Knowing the best way to work the system is not something you can think about when you’re in crisis mode.

The Mighty: How did this experience change your family and your relationship with each other?

Rebecka: I’ve always been close with my parents as long as I remember, but the main thing that changed was I became more honest with them. It’s been good to have open communication in our own home.

Tabita: She’s an only child, so we’re quite close. But there were definitely some rough moments. Like the power struggles over the eating disorder. I have one memory of being a heap on the kitchen floor crying because I felt like I was doing everything I could, and it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t eat. I told her, “I feel like a failure when you don’t eat.” She said, “I feel like a failure when I do.” So even this low moment turned into a chance for us to try to understand each other.

quote from Tabita Green: 'I told her, 'I feel like a failure when you don't eat.' She said, 'I feel like a failure when I do.''

The Mighty: What do you want people to know who are in similar situations?

Rebecka: When I was in and out of the hospital, it was like I was stuck in a rut. It’s too easy to get used to it. So I would tell other kids to think about the future. Also, it’s so important to have a support system. Even now, fully recovered, I need people to talk to. Almost two years after my last hospitalization, I was still talking to a therapist. Having good friends and family members you can talk to is so important.

quote from Rebecka Green: 'When I was in and out of the hospital, it was like I was stuck in a rut. It's too easy to get used to it.' Tabita: As a parent, you need to trust your gut instincts. We know our child best. We had a feeling something wasn’t right, but you want to trust the professionals. I do think they had her best interests in mind, but we have the parental instinct that surpasses that. Trust your instincts. Ask questions. Even just reading your child’s medication label, just so you know about the side effects, is so important. I never did that. We just took it and went with it.

Even if you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, sometimes you need to let those egg shells crunch. Even though she was the patient, it affected our whole family, and when she healed it was like our whole family healed with her.

Tabita and Rebecka Green posing outside on stairs

You can purchase “Her Lost Year” on Amazon or IndieBound.

Editor’s note: This piece reflects an individual’s experience. Please consult a doctor before going on or off medication.


22 Messages for People Who Haven't Opened Up About Their Mental Illness


In the mental health community, “1 in 4” has become a well-known stat, representing the number of people worldwide who will be affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives. It’s proof that people who have mental illnesses are not alone.

Even though we’re “1 in 4” strong, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help. This is especially an issue in minority communities. In 2013, African American and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about half the rate as whites, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Disclosing your mental illness or mental health issues is a personal and sometimes hard decision. And while not everyone needs to blog about it, people who have mental illness shouldn’t be forced into secrecy, either. We asked our Mighty readers what they would say to those hesitant to open up about their mental illness. If you’ve chosen to keep your mental illness a secret or have yet to seek professional help, some of these answers might encourage you to open that door a bit more. What you find might surprise you.

1. “The only way we’ll stop the stigma is by telling people our stories. I’m not ashamed. This is how I was made!” — Nikki Britt DeMeyers

2. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The more I’ve opened up about my anxiety the more I’ve learned about myself and the people around me. It’s quite liberating.”  Nicole Ricketts

3. I am who I am today because of the struggles I’ve been through. If I can help one person by sharing my story, it was worth it.” — Cassi Jasset


4. “Once you start opening up and talking about it, that’s when the real healing starts.” — Kathryn Singleton

5. “You have every right to live openly  but you owe no one your story. How openly you choose to live is and should be completely up to you, and you’re allowed to change your mind at any time, for any reason. Never let someone guilt you into being an activist or into being silent. Write your own story.”  — Alena Belleque

6.The more you acknowledge what’s part of you, the more you’ll realize you’re not alone.”  Tabitha Rainey

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7. “Say it with confidence. Don’t be concerned with how people react or reply. I told people and found everyone was great. I never asked for help, just understanding.” Kati Kainulainen

8. “Take your time. It has to be the right time for you.”  Marie Rossi 

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9. “It’s your choice; just know you’re not alone and I will accept you no matter what you choose to say or not say.”  Jessica James

10. “You will find there are more people than you thought who have or are going through the same thing. And they will help you, even just by giving you solace that you’re not alone in this struggle.”  Melissa Marcasciano McKeown

11. “You don’t have to feel alone anymore.”  Kate Wilhelmi

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12. “You don’t have to tell anyone anything you don’t want, but what if your experience helps someone else? Be open to the possibility you could get much more out of it than you think.” — Kathy Watson Stapp

13. “It’s OK not to talk about your mental illness until you’re ready to. It’s also OK to say to someone, ‘Hey, I need help.'”  Cassandra Coogan

14. “The only way we can start to push past the stereotypes associated with mental illness is to be honest with ourselves and others.”  Alayna Coates 


15.  “Mental illness feeds off secrecy. It wants to stay silent and hidden. Keeping it inside will ensure that it has complete control over you. Letting it out, talking about it, opening up to safe people (people who don’t judge or shame you for it) is [a] way to break free of its chains.” — Christine Suhan

16. “Opening up about it is the first step in recovery.”  Miranda Cox

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17. “Try us… you’ll be surprised how many of us will say ‘Me too,’ or ‘I understand!'” Annette Maribo Jorgensen

18. “Be frank about it. Those who are worth having around you will stay; let go of the rest.”  Melissa Davis Thompson

19. “Sharing my story has taken away some of mental illness’ power. It gives a purpose to the struggle.”  Melinda Bumgardner Schatz

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2o. “It’s always your choice what you say to whom, but you owe it to yourself to surround yourself with people who can embrace that part of you.”  Martha Katz

21. “Please don’t suffer in silence. There are communities everywhere that are waiting for you to offer support, guidance, friendship and peer support. You are not alone. You are valued. You are wanted.” — Monika Owczarski

22. “If you don’t talk about it, then who will?”  Peyton Scribbles Varner

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If you’re looking for more support, resources or information about living with a mental illness, find your local National Alliance on Mental Illness.

*Some answers have been shortened and edited for clarity and length.

Related: To the Doctor Who Encouraged Me to Open Up About My Mental Illness

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The First Time My Son With Special Needs Felt Like a Star


My son will tell you he’s not good at much. He’s at least three grades behind in school. He has a hard time keeping up in soccer. He’s afraid of heights and swimming pools. His attention span is short and his interests limited. But one thing he’s always had the natural God-given gift for is rhythm. When music comes on, especially hip hop, it speaks to him. He finds the beat and his body just takes over. It’s amazing.

Because he’s 9 now and finally understands the structure of a class, I enrolled him in a six-week hip-hop class. On the first day, my fingers were crossed and my belly fluttered with nerves. Would he be able to follow along? Would he feel too different? Would he get frustrated and storm out?

Admittedly, even though they closed the door to the room, I stood right outside and watched through the curtains. I’m glad I did, because I was completely unprepared for what I witnessed.

While the other girls in the class (yes, all girls) hugged their bodies and stood shyly in the back, my son Mateo went front and center and just…let loose. He danced like no one was watching. We’ve seen him do this at home and even in the mall when a store blasts music particularly loudly. But here, among his peers, he performed.

And boy, was he good!

My little boy who can’t read, doesn’t understand math concepts and can’t follow simple games in gym class, was poppin’ and lockin’ like he was the next contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

And I saw something amazing happen. The rest of the kids in the class started to smile. Then laugh. Then sway. Then stop looking around at who was watching them. Then let loose.

All because of him.

He may never be an inventor or a scientist — heck, he may never read past a third grade level — but during that 45 minutes of class every week, he inspires people.

When the first class ended, he looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Mom, I’m good at that, right?”

I had to fight back my tears because I’d never heard those words come from his mouth. I’d never seen him grin so widely. Not only was he good at it, he was the star.

Watch Mateo showing off his moves in the video below.

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