8 Pieces of Advice for Anyone Starting College With a Mental Illness


“What’s that? Anxiety? Depression? Oh, I had that and I know loads of people that have it too — you’ll be fine!”

Ugh.

Yes, anxiety and depression is becoming more commonplace, perhaps because they are being talked about more, better diagnosed and less stigmatized. Although, stigma still exists in my opinion. We are all different and anxiety and depression affect us in similar yet different ways. But mental illness shouldn’t stop anyone from going to college; whether online or on campus.

Here are my top eight pieces of advice for anyone starting college with anxiety or depression:

1. Take baby steps.

You might feel pressured as a freshman by others drinking, joining clubs and being outspoken in class. This does not mean you have to be the same or do the same things. Your study is your journey and you need to take it in small, manageable steps. Set goals one step at a time.

2. Don’t be a hermit.

No matter how hard it is, even if you aren’t taking part in the “traditional college experience” (whatever that is), do not lock yourself away. This doesn’t mean I’m telling you to go out and talk to everyone, but perhaps, take a walk, go to the shop, gym or library — just get out of the house. And remember to be vigilant and be safe.

3. Take advantage of student support.

Most colleges will have student services. Make use of them because that is what they are there for. Ask about well-being courses, counseling, assessments, support or third parties that can help you or offer support when or if you’re struggling.

4. Undertake a learning difficulty assessment.

This obviously is not relevant to everyone, but I would definitely recommend it, even if it is of the  slightest interest to you. These assessments are long and involve a one on one discussion with an assessor, but they are not just there to diagnose dyslexia, they assess for other things too. And school can help you apply for the funding to cover the cost.

5. It can be scary, but that’s OK.

College can be scary. New rooms, new teachers, new lecturers, new materials and everything is different. But it will get easier, take a deep breath and walk into that room.

6. It is OK to cry.

There will be days you don’t want to get up, go to a class or an activity, and you just want to fall apart. It is OK to cry. It may be embarrassing at first, but once you start, you will let go of so much built up emotion and things will probably seem better.

7. Talk.

Talk to someone; whether that is a friend, teacher, student support or a stranger, have someone to talk to. Or things might build up. It is so hard to share and talk about, but there is always someone willing to listen. Sometimes it takes a while to find them, but they are there.

8. You are number one.

This is the most obvious — but it is the first thing we forget. Look after yourself. Go for walks, take a moment to breathe, meditate, read or whatever takes your fancy. And of course, remember the basics: wash, eat and do your work. You are number one and need to keep yourself as healthy as you can.

You are worthy and you can do it!

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Thinkstock photo via Ross Helen


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