Mental illness is still somewhat of a taboo subject, even though it affects millions of Americans of all ages. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 American adults suffer from some form of mental illness but only 41% of those with mental illness ever seek treatment. The stigma of mental illness makes it difficult for people who struggle with it to reach out for help, especially when they are young and may not be sure what’s going on.
Unfortunately, mental illness is very common in college students and it can impact more than just academic performance – it can affect the quality of life as well. Keep reading to learn more about common mental health issues as well as the challenges they create for students and how to manage them.
Understanding Common Mental Health Issues
There are many different forms of mental illness and they affect people in different ways. Though mental health issues are vast and varied, there are some more common than others. The top mental health issues facing college students include the following:
- Eating Disorders
Depression is not just one of the most common forms of mental illness overall – it also affects as many as 36% of college students on some level. This condition is characterized by low mood, sadness, hopelessness, and changes in sleep, weight, and appetite. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults over the age of 18, but only 30% ever seek treatment. This condition causes irritability, stress, fearfulness, sweating, irregular heartbeat, and headaches. Anxiety is normal in short bursts but, when it becomes chronic, it qualifies as a form of mental illness.
When you think of eating disorders, you may think of teenage girls but these disorders often follow young adults to college. As many as 30 million people in the U.S. have some kind of eating disorder – the three most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Addiction is also very common in college students, particularly for alcohol and recreational drugs. According to a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20% of young adults age 18 to 25 use illicit drugs and nearly 20% of college students meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol use is also linked to risky sexual behavior in college students.
What Educational Challenges Do Mental Health Issues Create?
College is a stressful time whether or not you have a mental health problem. The pressure to perform well on classwork and tests, all while managing multiple classes and extra-curricular activities, can make anyone feel anxious or depressed from time to time. Here are some of the challenges students with mental illness may face during their college career:
- Difficulty connecting with other students and making friends
- Trouble sleeping leads to fatigue and challenges with concentrating in class
- Lack of motivation leads to poor performance on classwork and tests
- Difficulty coping with stress may lead to withdrawal or self-medication with drugs or alcohol
- Nervousness about participating in class leads to avoidance
- Unpredictable changes in mood may impact relationships and friendships
Again, it is important to realize that every person is affected by mental health problems in different ways. Even if you put two students with depression side by side you might see a completely different set of side effects in each one. Researchers and medical professionals still do not fully understand what causes mental illness or how it works which, unfortunately, means that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Keep reading to learn how to manage your mental health issues while in school.
Tips for Managing Mental Health Issues in Community College
Living with mental illness is never easy, no matter what type of mental health issue you have. The more you know about your condition, however, the better you’ll be able to manage it. Before you head to college, talk to your doctor and do some research to ensure that you fully understand your condition and the related symptoms – this is important for self-monitoring to ensure that your condition doesn’t get out of control. Here are some other tips for managing your mental illness while in school:
- Choose your school carefully – you may feel more comfortable attending a school close to home or one that has a small class size. You may also want to think about attending a school where you already have friends.
- Be strategic about your living situation – consider whether you’ll be more stable living in a single or with a roommate. Think about whether living in a dormitory with a built-in support network might be better than living alone in an apartment off campus.
- Disclose your condition to people who need to know – if you know that your condition has a significant impact on your academics and your life, consider telling your professors and the school’s counselor so they can help you manage your condition.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations – though you may not like to admit it, mental illness can be a form of disability so don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations such as extra time to take a test or taking the test in a different location.
- Be prepared to provide documentation – if you plan to ask for accommodations (or even if you don’t), you should be able to provide documentation of your diagnosis.
- Try to stick to a routine as much as possible – many people with mental illness find that following a daily routine helps to keep them stable. Try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day and be smart about managing your time between classwork, social activities, and personal time.
- Take care of your body and your mind – try to follow a healthy diet and make an effort to stay active as well. In addition to caring for your body, care for your mind by taking time to do things you enjoy and by engaging in stress-relieving activities. Don’t cope with stress by drinking!
- Keep a close eye on your symptoms – you may even want to keep a journal to track your mood, thoughts, and behavior. This will help you to identify any changes in your mental health status before it becomes a problem so you can make adjustments or get the treatment you need.
- If your mental illness is seriously impacting your academics and you are struggling to keep up, you may want to consider taking a leave of absence to get your condition back under control. Be sure to check your school’s policy before you do.
Dealing with mental health issues is never easy but it is a necessary evil. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or another form of mental illness, don’t be ashamed – reach out to your school’s guidance counselor for help or talk to someone you trust. Mental health issues are manageable but unless you ask for help you may continue to struggle with it on your own and that is no way to live.
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