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Meal Plans, Dorm Rooms, and Anxiety; Pursuing your Undergrad While Making Mental Health a Priority

young woman student in the library reading a book

Transitioning into college can be one of the most exciting times of a person’s life, but also arguably one of the most overwhelming. The only people in the world who may be more stressed than the brand-new college student is their parents. If you add on the fact that their child could be dealing with a social, mental, emotional, or behavioral challenge; that is enough to keep a parent up all hours of the night.

PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with a Pennsylvania college senior who has battled with depression and anxiety since she was a child and has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. These mental health difficulties have not stopped her from pursuing her undergraduate degree, but it has greatly impacted her collegiate experience. We understand how impactful advice is from people who have already been in your shoes, so we asked her for some advice on how to navigate the stressful, social, and often exhausting map that is college.

How has it been living with roommates?

“Living with roommates and sharing space constantly with people has proven to be a little tough. If I were giving advice about living with roommates I would say to be upfront with them and communicate how you feel and what you’re dealing with. Your roommates can be your best friends and making sure that they understand where you are coming from and why you might be in bed all day, or not in a “good mood” is important to communicate so they don’t take it personally. Everybody is too close to each other to not have open communication pathways. Just like you want your roommates to be there for you and check in on you, as a person who is knowledgeable and has a history with mental health I think it’s really important to check in on your roommates too. College is so stressful and so hard, and you never really know what is going on in somebody’s head if you don’t ask”

Why is important for you to let the people around you know about your difficulties?

“Like I discussed about roommates letting all of the important people in your life know what is going on is essential to keep the peace. I have had friends who didn’t understand why I was upset or canceled plans and I have learned that being upfront and vocal about my feelings and my needs is the way to go. This also helps you create a group of friends that is understanding and has positive influences in your life. College is about education but it also a time to grow socially. In these four years we get to live either with or within minutes of all of our best friends and by keeping these relationships open, honest, and positive it allows you feel more at home in your college environment. Leaving your support system and family can be incredibly terrifying and having a support system at school can help relieve a lot of anxiety.”

person on their phone looking at an instagram profile

What do you do if Social Media is negatively impacting your mental health?

“The constant comparison on social media proved to be pretty toxic for me for a long time. This kind of negativity was very draining on me and my mental health. I think social media can be detrimental especially to young girls because they are comparing themselves to people who are perfectly posed and edited, and this can make them feel like they are less than other girls. My advice to anybody who is feeling similar feelings is to recognize that social media is merely a highlight reel of somebody’s life. Cut your scrolling time down and focus on the real life and people around you. I started college very concerned about getting the most likes possible and looking my best on social media. Today I have transformed my account into a space where I post pictures of the people (and animals) that I love and quotes and images that make me feel happy. The likes don’t matter to me anymore, I would much rather someone who stumbled upon my page to feel inspired and happy rather than jealous of what I look like. Also unfollowing those toxic and over edited accounts and following people who are authentically and unapologetically portraying themselves online can help a lot.”

How do you deal with the everyday stress of college life?

“I think it’s hard because in college you need to constantly stay focused and on top of your assignments but when you’re dealing with anxiety and depression it can be hard to even get out of bed. My mood shifts also impact my school work a lot because one second, I could be crying, and the next second, I am on the top of my game in the library for hours upon hours. But I think through college I have learned that I am capable of so much more than I was aware of and that sometimes I need to just cut myself a break. College is downright stressful; its purpose is to prepare students for different workforces and stressing students out almost seems to be just a part of the system. If you just remember that no one assignment or class can define the person, or even the kind of student you are, then you should be able to handle the stress a little better. Surround yourself with people who allow you to have fun and relieve some stress and talk about how you are feeling so nothing gets pent up.”

How have you been able to handle the constantly social aspect of college?

“I have never had a problem socializing with people. I think my mood shifts have caused me to sometimes cancel on friends or plans, sometimes at the last minute, but putting myself and my mental well-being first has to be a priority always. I can’t be the kind of friend I want to be without ensuring that my mental health is being taken care of. Surrounding yourself with friends who understand that sometimes you have to change plans, or you just shouldn’t be in a party environment is essential to maintaining friendships that last through college and beyond. Knowing and respecting your mental and social boundaries will help you immensely”

Have your professors been accommodating to you and your mental health needs?

“I have always experienced really supportive professors. There have been many times where I have not been able to get myself out of bed, or some dark days where I cried nonstop and class was just not an option. My professors have always made accommodations for me and a number of them have also responded to my emails with support and kind words.

While I have lucked out with understanding and wonderful professors I know a lot of people have not. My best advice for this is to work on forging close relationships with your professors. Because I had to email them and go to their office hours to discuss my needs I became a lot closer with them than the average student does. I think this open communication path and established relationship benefits me as a student, and also them as an educator. So many of their students are dealing with mental heath difficulties and a lot of people grew up in families that don’t talk about it, or they don’t know how to express themselves. I like the idea that by talking about my own difficulties I could be helping professors understand other students struggles.”

What is your biggest piece of advice for a girl dealing with a mental difficulty who is about to enter college?

“The thing that has helped me the most is talking to a therapist. Having someone who is there to help you work through your emotions and make you feel validated is so important. I meet with my therapist once a week and this time allows me to debrief and process everything from stress at school and work, to dealing with roommates. Another thing that I have found very helpful is taking twenty minutes out of every day, no matter how busy the day is, and doing something that calms and centers me. I love to meditate or play with my cat and these simple breaks from assignments and stress help keep me pushing through college. I know a lot of people who also workout or go on walks to take some time for themselves.”

What are you most proud of?

“I am proud of right now. This semester has been so difficult for me and I have been trying to understand and deal with my recent diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder. That mixed with family issues has made me feel like things are spinning out of control in every aspect of my life. Accepting that I cannot control everything has been a huge hurdle for me and I honestly am so proud of myself for realizing and being okay with that. Feeling powerless is very scary but I have overcome this, and I can’t make myself crazy about things that are out of my control.”

What would your advice be to the parent of that child?

“My ultimate and, in my opinion, most important advice for parents whether or not your child is going to college or not is to be super aware of how they are doing mentally. Educate yourself about warning signs and how to help because a lot of kids feel isolated and scared to speak up on their own. Just be there for your child and offer the unconditional love that they need as well as have resources ready for them if they need them.”

Are you having trouble advocating for your college-aged child, or even knowing where to start? Reach out to one of our free and confidential Family Support Partners at 888-273-2361 or online here.


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