College and Your Mental Health Matters


Recently, I heard a tragic story of a young man, a college student, who attended my daughter’s alma mater, Penn State University. This young man was a vibrant and active student on  the State College campus. Upon hindsight and without detailing a very personal family tragedy,  this young man had displayed behaviors and attitudes indicative of a mental health matter. While with his friends one night, he either jumped or fell from a balcony. Fortunately he survived, but he lived as a quadriplegic, unable to speak until his death at age 22. I wonder whether this could have been avoided if this young man had received critical counseling interventions. There were signs of course, that if recognized, could have been  addressed-if his friends only knew what they were.

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The onset of mental health conditions tend to emerge before age 24 and one in five young adults will experience a condition during college.  College is part academic development, career development and personal development. We tend to focus on the first two, and forget that-youngsters are emerging and young adults. Many  youngsters experience -living on their own, away from parents, familiar surroundings, and though there are controlled, and structured settings and accommodations like campus housing and student dormitories, little focus is placed on psychological adjustments, attitudes, or total mental health and comprehensive wellness.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[SAMHSA] in partnership with National Alliance on Mental Illness[NAMI] have just released guidance on mental health specifically during the college years. They suggest that we start the conversation-talk about mental health, destigmatize conditions and not attach blame, but rather offer help and resources, listen, and educate yourself and others about what a mental health disorder looks, feels and sounds like.

Very important to note is that mental health conditions are not  uncommon, and that you nor anyone else should feel alone. There is always someone who can relate, will listen and will provide the necessary assistance in order to help people manage a diagnosis and cope with a mental health condition if present.

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Feeling down or depressed? That’s ok, unless the feelings persist, last too long, are accompanied by other disturbing feelings, or you feel as though you can’t manage your daily life. No matter what, do not ever give up on yourself or your ability to come out of this  temporary ‘funk’ landing on the brighter side of life.  But, if deemed serious, you can manage that, too.

The highlights the importance of seeking help from someone you trust. You may come to understand that it may be due to ‘Freshman Depression'[which could occur at any time, not only freshman year], mid-term jitters, lack of sleep, an argument with a good friend, and relatively minor, non-alarming life circumstances. Until you have a conversation with an adult or professional, you won’t know how serious it may be.

Seek out someone with whom you can talk through the feelings or thoughts or behaviors that are disturbing to you. It is extremely important that you educate yourself and others about the warning signs of mental health conditions. Talk through and about your feelings, learn to recognize the signs, and tell someone, whether it is for you or a friend.

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Some symptoms or feelings may be considered within the range of ‘normal’, and can be attributed to recent changes or stressors in your life that can underlie coping behavior changes like poor eating habits-lack of appetite or overeating. Could be fear, anxiety, or a recent loss. You won’t know unless you start the conversation. Find the on-campus counseling center or seek off-campus counseling services. Or go to the school’s medical station/office[every school has one], since physical health and mental health are often related.

Let’s save lives, for it may be yours, mine or a perfect stranger. Be informed, and educate others, too. No one should suffer in silence, or feel that they are alone. Start the conversation at your school, in your community, or in your home.

Keep these thoughts in mind when you start your conversation:

Mental health conditions are common. In fact, one in five young adults will experience a mental health condition during college. If you develop a mental illness, remember that you are not alone.

Exercise, sleep and diet are important. Your physical health and mental health are connected and impact one another. Remember to take care of your body in order to take care of your mind.

Know where and when to seek help, and who to talk to. Make yourself aware of resources and care options on and off campus. If you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to the counseling center or a trusted advisor.

Understand your health privacy laws. Devise a plan on whether and how you will allow your school to share sensitive information about your mental health with your family or a trusted adult. Find out if your school has an authorization form, or use the one included in our guide.

There are warning signs. Verse yourself on the warning signs of mental health conditions and how to respond. Being informed can save lives. Get the guide!

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