For those of you stepping onto the Pullman campus and picking up this paper for the first time, welcome. For those of you returning, welcome back. Back to the friends, parties, games of Ultimate Frisbee and Cougar Fever that comes with a new school year.
For many, college is a second home. But it can also be one of the scariest, most exhausting time periods of our lives. It’s about 15-page papers started the night before their due, comprehensive exams on material you didn’t understand at the beginning of the semester, being away from home and making huge mistakes. And when the going gets rough, some of the best years of our lives can turn dark.
An estimated 44 percent of college students experienced some symptoms of depression in 2010, according to an article written by Therese J. Borchard for PsychCentral.com.
Other national trends are more troubling still. According to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors for 2010, about 91 percent of participating universities reported an increase in clients with severe psychological problems. Sixty percent reported an increase in learning disabilities and 39 percent an increase in self-injury issues.
Everyone has different struggles, but there are ways to avoid struggling with your mental health. While by no means cure-alls, these five steps may help you on your way to a more satisfactory college experience.
1) Develop an informal support network
That sounds super fancy, but if you have family, friends, a roommate, someone you trust, you’ve already taken the first step. Don’t be afraid to confide in those closest to you. More people understand what you’re going through than you probably think. Chances are your best friend isn’t a psychologist, but the love and support of your friends and family can often make the difference between giving up and moving forward.
2) Don’t stretch yourself thin
This is probably the hardest thing to do in college, especially if you’re coming from high school with a 4.0 GPA, a resume that goes to Timbuktu and the passion to join four or 14 clubs. Don’t do it. My first semester, I took 18 credits and worked pretty much full time. It kicked my butt, and unless you’re some sort of demi-god, it will kick yours. “You-time” can be the most valuable time of the day, so make sure to take some once in a while. Paint your nails, play Halo, whatever you do, just make it something special for yourself.
3) Tell whoever you live with
If you have a roommate, tell them what’s going on in your life. You certainly don’t have to go into details if you’re not close, but mental health problems can make a person difficult to live with. And you have a legitimate reason, too. If you’re smoking pot in your room or something, yeah, your roommate has the right to have a beef with you, but if you’re going through depression, suicidal thoughts or family problems, it’s better that your roommate knows and can support you if things become too hard to take.
4) Keep up your physical health
The freshman 15 is real. Just ask my thighs. But so are problems like sleep deprivation, caffeine addiction, potential alcoholism and eating your feelings. College is rough, and your physical health is directly related to your emotional health. Eat healthy foods and exercise, even if it's just a couple days a week. You’ll have more energy and feel better about yourself because you’ve done something good for no one else but you.
5) Get help
So you have to “see a shrink.” Big deal. You and about 1,800 students on the Pullman campus have, about 10 percent, said Cassandra Nichols, director of the WSU Counseling and Testing Services office.
She also said the stigma about seeing a mental health specialist may be decreasing for some groups, with the counseling center treating more students who used counseling services in high school.
“People who are able to access counseling services if they need it retain and graduate from universities,” she said.
There is no shame in using the center’s free services, be it group therapy or one-on-one time with one of the trained therapists. There are walk-in hours throughout the week; just check their website for times and your options.
College should be fun, safe and healthy. It should be about finding yourself, doing what you love and gaining the skills you need for the rest of your life. Don’t let your mental health prevent you from reaching your potential.
RESOURCES BREAKOUT BOX