What Do I Do If My Mental Health Declines While at College?
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Most people don’t learn how to take care of their mental health until they start to have symptoms of disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Maintaining mental wellness as an adult takes resilience, self-awareness, support systems, coping strategies and a willingness to ask for help. As you start taking on more responsibilities in young adulthood, you may be more likely to notice symptoms of worsening mental health. 

Dealing with a mental health condition along with your coursework, a job and other responsibilities can feel overwhelming. But you’re definitely not the only one going through this. University counseling centers around the country are seeing so many new students with mental health issues that they’re starting to explore new ways to meet the growing demand.

Working on your mental health is about more than talking about your feelings, although that’s a big part of it. Learning new skills to manage stress and prevent burnout will help you throughout your adult life. Communicating your emotions will help you have better relationships, too. 

This article offers some advice on how to manage your mental health while experiencing new symptoms at school.

First steps to take if your mental health declines at college

Mental health decline refers to a period of time where you’re experiencing poor mental health. In college, this can manifest as withdrawing from your friends, a lack of motivation to complete your coursework or not prioritizing your own self-care. For many students, burnout is how to best sum up their mental health decline.

There are a few steps you should take right away if your mental health declines while you’re away at school:

  1. One of the first things to do is find a friend or family member who you can trust with your mental health concerns. Knowing that someone is aware of your symptoms can help you feel safer, and you may find out that they’ve had similar experiences. They may be able to help you navigate your way to the right mental health care resources, too. 
  2. If your grades are slipping or if you need to take a mental health day, let your professors know as soon as possible. They should be able to suggest ways to keep up with coursework. Without prior communication, it may be difficult to request an excused absence.
  3. Your school may have a counseling center where you can talk with a licensed therapist or a health clinic where you can see a doctor. Go to your school’s website to see what mental health resources are available to you. If you have health insurance, you can also check with your provider to see where you can access mental health services.

The college campus mental health crisis

The proportion of college students experiencing mental health problems has increased almost 50% since 2013. These numbers were extremely high before the coronavirus pandemic. This has led many schools to develop new mental wellness programs, but unfortunately, many others are still under-resourced. Schools leading the change have created new initiatives like peer-led support groups, training teachers on recognizing signs of poor mental health, and expanding campus counseling centers to accommodate same-day screenings or appointments.

Mental health maintenance tips for college students

Improving your mental health and finding relief can start with simple actions. While these tips are not a substitute for professional treatment, they can help you cope better with the challenges of college life. Remember, speaking with a licensed therapist or doctor is essential for proper mental health care.

Here are some recommended mental health strategies for college students:

  • Get eight to nine hours of sleep every night — You might be surprised by how much of a difference sleep can make. It’s important to get the recommended amount of sleep every night, even on weekends.

  • Eat a balanced diet — If you’re not getting the nutrients you need, your mental and physical health can suffer. Eating a variety of foods will ensure that you have the energy to stay focused and keep a positive outlook.

  • Take frequent study breaks — Your brain needs time to process and reset during long study sessions. Get away from your desk to stretch for a few minutes and have a healthy snack.

  • Plan time for rest and recreation — If you don’t have some downtime each week, you’ll burn out. Set aside some time in your schedule to do something fun and relaxing every week. Make it a priority so you don’t end up overworking yourself.

  • Practice mindfulness — Staying calm when you’ve got a lot going on can be hard. Try meditating or journaling to quiet your thoughts and keep returning to the present moment.

Get comprehensive treatment and learn new skills at Lightfully U

Seeing an outpatient therapist can be a good way to dip your toe into the pool of mental health treatment, so to speak. But if you feel your symptoms are overwhelming or severe, you may need something more comprehensive. Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) offers a supportive community of young adults dedicated to mental health.We created a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) just for college students. It’s a great place to meet other young adults who take their mental health as seriously as you do. 

Lightfully U is committed to providing holistic mental health services for college students. Our programs are designed to address the unique challenges faced by students, offering comprehensive support tailored to each client’s needs. Our programs use process-based therapy (PBT), which focuses more on your needs and functions as a person, not just your symptoms. It’s a holistic approach that optimizes the core processes of managing thoughts, emotions, behaviors and relationships. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and develop some new skills for staying mentally well. 

Sessions take place online and they’re free to UC students. If you want to scope things out first, you’re welcome to come to our free weekly support group. You’re headed in the right direction. Give us a shout if you have any questions!

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