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Mental Health

Transitioning into a new life can be tough for many students. Every experience and interaction you have during your first year of college will be a new one, which means you’ll have to find new ways for dealing with stress and feeling down. Fortunately, your school’s mental health center can help you get through this tough time by offering counseling. Don’t hesitate to use this service if you’re feeling stressed, depressed, or confused: ignoring your mental health is just as bad as ignoring your physical health.

Counseling

Going to therapy or counseling to talk about your feelings doesn’t make you crazy or unstable. In fact, it means just the opposite. Students who talk about their feelings feel balanced and are more likely to succeed in college than those who white-knuckle it.

The counselors who work at the mental health center are trained professionals who specialize in the mental health issues that frequently come up for college students. If your school offers graduate studies in psychology, the counselor may be a PhD student doing his or her internship. Don’t worry, they’re not just practicing on you: these people are already thoroughly trained to counsel people and are just logging hours toward their graduation or accreditation.

Group Therapy

Along with individual counseling, you can also join a group focused on a particular topic, such as grief, trauma, self-esteem, and eating disorders. People often hesitate to join a group therapy session, because it can be difficult sharing your emotions with a room full of strangers. But the members of the group are all there to work through their feelings, not to judge you, and it helps to see that other people are dealing with the same problems you’re experiencing.

Depression

Depression is like a bad or sad mood that you can’t snap out of. If it lasts for an extended period of time, depression becomes a serious medical condition and should be treated by a mental health professional. Everyone gets depressed at some time or another, but clinical depression is the type that doesn’t lift. About 10 percent of all college students are diagnosed with clinical depression.

Here are some signs of depression to watch out for:

  • Waking feeling unrested and unable to get out of bed in the morning
  • Waking frequently during the night after nightmares/disturbing dreams
  • Ceasing to do things you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Drastic weight gain or loss
  • Frequent upsetting thoughts/worrying too much
  • Becoming emotional or upset for no obvious reason
  • Irritability/short temper
  • Feeling “slowed down”
  • Losing interest in life/suicidal thoughts and feelings

A lot of factors can trigger depression, including stress, new responsibilities, changes in your social life, and substance abuse. If you think you’re depressed, contact your school’s mental health center right away. Clinical depression does not go away on its own.

Suicide

Each year, 10,000 university students attempt suicide, and 10 percent succeed. These are frightening statistics.

Suicide happens when pain (emotional or physical) outweighs the resources a person has to deal with it. Suicidal feelings tend to dissipate when the person takes some action to relieve the pain, such as counseling. No one is going to think you’re crazy for having suicidal thoughts, and there are people who can help you overcome these feelings. Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die, but rather just want to be rid of the pain they’re feeling.

If you’re thinking of suicide, immediately stop whatever you’re doing and tell someone. Call a suicide hotline or go to your school’s mental health center, where you can talk to trained people who will help you deal with your thoughts and feelings. You’re not alone.

Addiction

Substance abuse is pretty widespread among college kids, many of whom are either experimenting for the first time or continuing their drug and alcohol abuse but now with the added freedom of being away from home. Fifty-five percent of college students admit to using drugs, and even greater numbers admit to drinking alcohol regularly.

Alcohol is everywhere in college: at parties, sporting events, and even your dorm. Fifty percent of college males and nearly 40 percent of college females say that they binge drink. Thirty-one percent become alcohol abusers, but of those only 6 percent seek treatment while in college.

Alcohol can be deadly in large doses or when it’s combined with other drugs. It’s very likely that someone on your campus will die this year as a result of a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning. Don’t let yourself become a statistic. If you or someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem, contact the mental wellness center at your college. They have resources to deal with addiction.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can appear in the first year of college. Stress, school pressure, and homesickness can trigger eating too much—called bingeing—to comfort sad and lonely feelings. Eating too little, which is a symptom of anorexia, can bring a feeling of control to a stressed-out student, as can purging, which is a symptom of bulimia. But these disorders cause more harm than they do comfort. In the long run, eating disorders create serious health problems and lead to thousands of deaths each year.

Don’t get caught in the dangerous cycle of eating disorders. If you think you have a problem, contact your health center right away. Because eating disorders are so common on college campuses, schools have professionals who know exactly how to deal with them. No one is going to judge you.

Homesickness

Homesickness afflicts most first-year college students and is especially common in the first few weeks of school. You’ve moved away from home for the first time and have left everything familiar and comforting behind. You’ll miss your friends, your pets, your room—you’ll even miss your little brother’s whining and your parents’ nagging.

You can’t avoid homesickness, but you can keep it from crippling you in college. Here are some great ways to curb your longing for home:

  • Put up some favorite photos of your family and friends.
  • Make friends in your dorm. You can commiserate about your homesickness, and you’ll be less lonely.
  • E-mail some friends back home. Don’t make lengthy phone calls—it’ll make you feel even more homesick and it will cost a fortune.
  • Write down a few things you miss about home and a few things you love about your new life in college.
  • Don’t mope. Get out and do something fun.
  • Do something nice for yourself, like getting a massage, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Call your family just to say hello. Don’t throw a one-person pity-party on the phone. You’ll feel better when you hang up if you didn’t spend the time whining about how much you miss your cat.
  • Do your laundry. Getting busy and productive keeps your mind occupied on other things.
  • If your homesickness gets really bad, call your school’s mental health center and make an appointment. Your feelings are valid and are worth talking out with a professional.
  • Don’t rush home until vacation time (unless you live reasonably close to campus and can make a day trip). While you’re home, the other people in your dorm will be getting to know one another well, and you’ll miss out on all of that bonding.
Stress

Moving is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. When you move to college, you have the added burden of being on your own for the first time, making new friends, taking care of yourself, and starting a rigorous class schedule. All these factors make your first few months of college pretty stressful.

Stress affects both your mind and your body. It is a reaction to events happening in your environment, and can also be a reaction to something happening in your body (such as illness or hormonal changes). Most people can handle a certain amount of stress and can even use it to motivate themselves, for example, using the deadline for turning in a term paper as a stimulus for getting it done. But at some point the stress can become too much, and you may become overwhelmed and unable to handle everything that’s going on.

If your world feels like it’s falling apart, call the mental health center right away. Chances are nothing’s really falling apart, and if something is, there is a resource at school to help you put it back together.

Stress Management

You won’t be able to get rid of most of the stressors that come with college life, but you can choose to deal with them differently, which will reduce your stress level. Try these techniques:

  • Relax. Take thirty minutes for yourself each day to do something that requires as little effort as possible and doesn’t use any brain power. Watch TV, read a trashy novel, people-watch—do whatever it takes, just as long as what you’re doing is relaxing. Don’t play video games, answer e-mails, or do anything else that raises your heart rate and requires a lot of concentration. The idea is to become a cauliflower for the moment.
  • Balance your workload. Perhaps you’ve taken on too much. Write down all of your weekly obligations. Where is there time for you? Try to carve a couple of hours out of your day for “me time.” You may have to give up an activity or obligation to do that.
  • Get a massage. Some universities offer massage at their health center. Call to find out. If not, perhaps you and a friend can swap massages.
  • Meditate. When you’re going a hundred miles a minute, meditation is an opportunity to slow down for a while and reconnect with yourself. Meditation classes are often offered on campus.
  • Sleep. If you’re tense, you may not be getting enough sleep. Aim for as close to eight hours a night as possible. If you lose too much sleep you can become ill and confused, and you won’t perform well in school.
  • Nap. Can’t get eight hours of sleep? Taking a fifteen- to twenty-minute nap during the day is refreshing. But don’t nap for longer, because you’ll wake up groggy and won’t be able to sleep at night.
  • Find your purpose. We admit that this is a tough one. But wandering aimlessly, not knowing what you’re doing on earth, is even more difficult. Of course, finding your purpose is a lifelong journey, and nobody expects you to figure it out over the course of a few hours. So try to figure out what your purpose is for today.
  • Stop procrastinating. Putting things off for later can cause extreme stress, especially as deadlines approach.
  • Take a day trip. Taking a day to get off campus to go hiking or camping can put you in a totally different frame of mind by the time you get back.
  • Work out. Yes, you’re busy with all of the pressures of your new life, but you’ve got to make some time for regular exercise. Ideally, you’ll get some exercise every day, but you don’t have to work out hard every day. See if you can fit a yoga class into your schedule. If you can’t make it to the gym regularly, try walking the long route to your classes and doing some abdominal crunches when you wake up and before you go to bed. Regular exercise helps the body to release the tension built up from too much stress and will help to regulate your sleep patterns and your appetite.
Sleep

Stress and depression can lead to sleep disturbances. Either people can’t fall asleep at all, or they’ll hunker down under the covers all day, avoiding the world around them. Getting some balance in your life should help you find a normal sleep pattern. Eat right, exercise, deal with your feelings, and try not to procrastinate. Get to bed at a reasonable hour and get up about eight hours later.

If you have difficulty sleeping, make your bed as comfortable as possible with soft sheets and a cushy mattress topper. Use a small white-noise machine if background noises bother you. Ask your roommate to respect your sleeping schedule. If insomnia persists, make an appointment at the health center. Don’t read in bed to fall asleep: you’ll only train your brain to become sleepy when you read, which is not a good plan for a college student.

 
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