Transition to College: Finding Mental Health Support
My stress level was always very high during the first semester of my senior year in high school. I was worried about my classes, my test scores, and getting into college. The college process felt terrifying to me: it made me question what I have worked for at my highly competitive, six-hours-of-homework-a-night high school. In March of my senior year I fell into a depression. I had experienced depression before, but this time felt even harder. I felt all my actions were fruitless and that nothing I could do would make them better. I felt useless and stupid, and very anxious about my future. Luckily, I had a psychiatrist and a therapist in my corner, and I navigated through the depression. I was still, however, nervous for what the upcoming transition to college had in store for me – and for my depression; I was uncertain about whether it would be alleviated before I got to college and about what I would do if it was still there, or resurfaced, once I was actually in college.
I started college in August 2015. My school was very welcoming to freshmen and I made lots of friends; I had a great room; the meals were decent. But it wasn’t an easy transition. For one, I needed to find new mental health providers, as my college’s health center offers a maximum of ten sessions of counseling a year for each student. I met with several local therapists, some whose names I got from the health center, some my parents came up with, some I found. Many were too eager to offer new medications, which alarmed my parents; some I just didn’t click with.
I eventually found my current therapist, a very kind woman who mostly gets me and has been very helpful, right in the town where my college is located, so she’s only a walk or short bike ride away. She was recommended to me by my school’s counseling center. It’s a good idea to contact your college’s health center for a list of qualified professionals in your area; their lists may not be exhaustive, but they’re a good start. On the other hand, I ended up having to travel 45 minutes each week to meet with the good psychiatrist I eventually found. Overall, this is one of the hardest challenges when you have mental health issues and are transitioning to college, particularly if you’re moving some distance from home. Your health providers won’t always be near you. Speaking with them on the phone or by Skype may help, but I’ve never loved that. If you need urgent care, however, you can always use your college’s health center.
My college friends were very supportive. While the mental health services at my school are far from perfect – in fact, I have a lot of criticism of them – the people I met at college have mostly been open and very willing to talk about what I was struggling with and what they in turn were dealing with, daily and throughout their lives. My roommate that first year, who was very interested in health and wellness, including mental wellness, and who practiced Loving-Kindness meditation most days was also very supportive; she encouraged me to be a better person and to always take care of myself.
One thing that was hard was not being around my parents. Of course, I wasn’t particularly eager to be around them all the time anymore, but they were, and are, a big source of support for me. Being away from them, especially with all the stress and anxiety of choosing and beginning new classes, was hard at first; I still text them too much sometimes, and call them when I’m in crisis. It’s worth remembering that parents are still there for you, even if they’re far away; at the same time, not having too many adults in your day-to-day life can compel you to be more independent about taking care of yourself.
The high-school-to-college transition isn’t always easy, especially when you’re struggling with a mental health issue, but there are definitely ways to take care of yourself and get through it. Sleep. Eat regularly. Study when you need to. Hang out with people when you need to. Be on your own when you need to be alone – that’s one that’s often forgotten, especially in freshman year. Find good mental health care and support where you need it. If you’re struggling, talk to someone: a friend, a teacher, or a professional. Get yourself adequate help and support, and you’ll be okay.