From navigating the financial challenges of life away from home to integrating into new friendship circles, many college students find that they need some help to adjust to their new lives. And while not all students are specifically experiencing mental health issues, more than a quarter of college students have been treated for mental health challenges within the last year, and 95% of college counseling center directors say that mental health concerns are a growing challenge on campus. Help is available, but finding it can be challenging. No matter what you’re experiencing or where you are in the college journey, though, there are options.
Preparing for the Transition
Knowing what to expect and how to manage setbacks can make the college transition easier. Transition Year (transitionyear.org) helps students plan for the transition to college, from choosing the right school to preparing for the first day of class. The site also offers resources for students diagnosed with a mental health condition. Some other things you can do to get ready include:
- Planning for your health care needs. If you already have a mental health condition, talk to your doctor about your medication and determine whether there’s a more accessible or affordable option.
- Evaluating health insurance options. Many schools offer free or low-cost care to current students, but you may need help covering the costs of medication or diagnostic tests. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners publishes a guide to college health insurance.
- Meeting with a counselor at your college’s counseling center. If you’re already in therapy, this meeting can help you make a smooth transition to a new therapist. If you’re not getting therapy, though, a few sessions with a counselor can help prepare you for college life.
Advocating for Mental Health Rights and Responsibilities
In high school, you might have relied on a parent, a trusted teacher, or a guidance counselor to advocate for your needs. Your rights to fair treatment and quality care don’t go away now that you’re in college, but you’ll have to take more responsibility for protecting yourself. Here are some things you can do to make mental health care more accessible and accepted:
- Get online support from other college students. StrengthofUs (strengthofus.org) is the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) online community for young adults. You can network with other students facing similar issues, get assistance for mental health challenges, and seek advice from people who really do understand.
- Join or start a NAMI chapter at your school. You can find a list of current chapters, as well as contact information for starting a new chapter, here.
- Don’t forget about disability accommodations. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, mental health issues are disabilities that entitle students to reasonable accommodations upon request, such as a note taker, extra time to take tests, or a slight modification in class project requirements. If you need help seeking accommodations, contact your school’s disability office.
Mental Health Education for College Students
Knowledge really is power. Understanding mental health issues can help you detect a problem in yourself or a loved one. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health issue, understanding your condition can help you become a strong advocate for excellent medical treatment. You’ll also have a better idea of what to expect and whether the transition to college might bring about any special challenges.
You can explore GoodTherapy.org’s PsychPedia for information and resources related to a plethora of mental health issues. Dr. Bob maintains a massive list (dr-bob.org/vpc) of mental health pamphlets designed specifically for college students. The American College Health Association offers pamphlets and in-depth information about a host of college health issues. Your college counseling center, your local chapter of NAMI, and local crisis centers can also be prime sources of information about mental health conditions.
College Access to Mental Health Care
Leaving behind familiar surroundings is challenging for everyone, but it becomes even more challenging if you had a therapist you knew and loved. Whether you’re replacing a much-beloved mental health expert or seeking therapy for the first time, your college counseling center is a prime resource for hooking you up with free or low-cost counseling options.
But what if you need help right now? Dozens of hotlines are dedicated to helping college students experiencing all types of crises. A few of your options include:
- The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (rainn.org), which offers both phone and online crisis counseling to sexual assault survivors and the people who love them.
- Ulifeline (ulifeline.org), which offers a self-evaluation tool, help finding mental health care on campus, and a hotline for students in need of immediate assistance.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) offers support and referrals to depressed and suicidal people—as well as those seeking to help people experiencing suicidal feelings—24 hours a day.
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers information, phone assistance, and extensive resources for people experiencing mood disorders.
If you’re not sure you’re ready to take the plunge and call a hotline or go to a counseling center, consider talking to your resident advisor or your academic advisor. They may be able to help you access on-campus resources. You can also search for a therapist on GoodTherapy.org if your options on campus are limited. Some therapists have special deals for students and will try to accommodate your situation.
ADA Q&A. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.pacer.org/publications/adaqa/504.asp
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