According to the American Psychological Association, about one-third of college students say that depression has made it difficult for them to function within the last 12 months. Unfortunately, the symptoms of mental illness often begin to show as people mature into early adulthood, which is also when they leave home for the first time to attend college.

College can present an array of challenging issues for incoming freshman. If you’re moving out of state for school, it can be very difficult starting a new life in a city where you don’t know anyone. The pressure to fit in can also be very great, which can be a mental challenge for some if they feel the need to change themselves to be liked by others. If this is your first time being away from your parents, emotions such as sadness and loneliness could present themselves during this transition.

It can also be difficult to attribute your emotions to a mental illness if you don’t necessarily know you have one. Mental illness can go undiagnosed for much longer than you think, due to those affected being so used to feelings of pressure and stress they don’t understand a more serious problem has developed.

If you are struggling with a mental illness, you should get help from a counselor at your school or talk to another medical professional who can help. In the meantime, you can use these three coping mechanisms to prevent unhealthy behaviors that could lead you toward unnecessary mental strain.

1. Follow a Regular Sleep Schedule

Mental illness in collegeSome research shows that disrupted sleep schedules can contribute to mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder. Following a regular schedule that gives you at least 8 hours of sleep per night could lessen the symptoms of mental illness. Lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness, fatigue, confusion, and irritability. More serious sleep deprivation can cause high blood pressure, strokes, and even heart attacks.

Listening to your body, especially as a young adult still growing and transitioning, is absolutely crucial. College allows for a certain amount of freedom, so maybe you start going to bed later than you usually do, or attending parties during the weekdays that take away from healthy sleep. Try to keep yourself in check and don’t push your body too hard: getting good rest is your way of letting your body heal, and taking away from that for unhealthy reasons will become a very straining cycle.

Following a regular sleep schedule requires going to bed and getting up at the same times every day. Avoid the temptation to sleep in on the weekends, or pulling all-nighters studying for tests. Other tips to keep your energy up and constant include:

  • Limiting your caffeine intake.
  • Exposing yourself to bright, natural light as soon as you wake up.
  • Avoid naps.
  • Exercise daily.

2. Set Realistic Goals

Depending on your mental illness, you may not be able to get perfect grades every semester. When your symptoms start to get in the way of your schoolwork, this may be a sign that you need to devote more time to self-care. Pushing yourself too hard can cause your mental illness to spiral because you’re not placing enough attention on what you’re feeling. If your mind isn’t in a good state, your productivity level won’t be great either. Take time to listen to your thoughts and your emotions.

Focusing on yourself might take away from the study time you need to stay at the top of your class, but it will help you avoid the kind of serious depression that can force you to leave school for months in order to properly heal. Don’t forget that it’s okay to alter your goals throughout the semester. If you’re mentally strained from taking too many courses, talk to your counselor and see if there is an option for moving one of them to the following semester. Maybe you have a part-time job and you’ve spread yourself too thin between work and school: see if your managers can adjust your hours that fit your class schedule.

If you start to feel the symptoms of your mental illness come on more often, it may be time to take a step back. See if you can rearrange some of the activities in your life so that they allow for more time to focus on yourself.

3. Stay Social, But Avoid Harmful Activities

Face-to-face social interaction can improve depression symptoms, so it’s important for you to spend time with your classmates and friends during school.

You do not, however, want to participate in activities that can trigger your symptoms. That means avoiding situations where you may feel tempted to drink or use drugs. While substances can mask the symptoms of mental illness for a few hours, you will feel worse when the feel-good effects wear off.

Drug use paired with mental addiction has the potential to cause a person great harm. Chemical imbalances in the brain due to mental illness are only worsened by the effects of drugs and alcohol. Addiction and substance dependence are also much more common in those with mental disorders.

Instead of engaging in harmful activities, find friends who enjoy going to the movies, playing games, and taking short road trips on the weekends. Surround yourself with people that have similar interests as you: interests that allow for positivity, good energy, and emotional growth. By avoiding people that engage in harmful activities, you’ll only promote the state of your mental health and increase your chances of recovery.

Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed in college. Meeting with a counselor regularly and surrounding yourself with a solid support system are easy ways to stay on top of your mental health.

If you know you have a mental disorder and feel as though it has gotten out of control, call us today. Scottsdale Recovery Center offers treatment to people of all ages including young adults. Mental illness is a condition that requires medical attention, and we pride ourselves in our ability to produce long-term results for our patients.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.