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 Managing Your Mental Health Condition in College

The college experience is challenging for all young adults as they navigate through making new friends, achieving academic success, establishing their identity, learning to live independently and planning their futures. If you have mental health treatment needs, the additional responsibility of managing your mental health condition can make these already challenging circumstances even more overwhelming.

It is important to remember that students living with mental health conditions can and are successful in college with the right supports. Here are some key strategies to successfully managing a mental health condition in college:

  • Building A Support Network. A large support network during college is crucial to combat feelings of isolation. Fortunately, there are many opportunities in college to connect with others, including joining study groups, befriending individuals with common interests and being matched up with upper-class mentors who can serve as role models and provide guidance. Surround yourself with peers who can “show the way” to succeeding in college. For more information on making friends, visit the Friends and Family section on StrengthofUs.org, NAMI's social networking website and online resource center for young adults. NAMI also has student-run, student-led campus groups across the country that can help build your support network. Visit NAMI on Campus for more information.
  • Setting Goals. It is important to focus on one goal at a time and to create a plan that includes clear expectations and a realistic timeline. You may need to work with a life coach to reduce any feelings of being overwhelmed in college and to identify what it will take to achieve a specific goal and how to prepare accordingly. A coach can also help you develop social skills and learn how to handle numerous social interactions that are important to succeeding in college and life afterwards. Coaches are often available through a school’s Career Center or you can find a coach using the International Coach Directory.
  • Creating Structure. Establishing a daily schedule of supportive activities, including homework, studying, social outings and a workout routine, helps reduce stress and accomplish academic and personal goals. Consider opting for early classes, which help create structure and give you a reason to start your day. Volunteer or interning in an area that interests you is also a great way to create structure. These activities provide opportunities for you to make additional connections, build positive experiences and try out careers. It’s great to write all of your daily activities into a daily planner so you can budget your time accordingly.
  • Building Upon Strengths. When opportunities for success are not built into your life, you may start to feel disempowered. To prevent this, you can search online before school starts to identify opportunities to become involved on campus in ways that use your strengths. Having these opportunities in place enables you to feel confident and successful. It is good to take your strengths into account when building your support network, setting your goals and creating your structure of supportive activities.

Before the school year starts, it is important to explore various resources to determine what supports are the best match for you; one size does not fit all for students with mental health conditions.

Don’t be overly discouraged with set backs. We all have them in life. The important thing is when they happen, accept it and then work to get your life back on track. College provides an environment conducive to self-discovery and boundless success; it is critical that you seek the right supports that build on your strengths so you can enjoy the college years and be catapulted into a successful and productive life.

Adapted from NAMI’s July Children’s Conference Call with Dr. Ken Duckworth. Special guest, Kimberly Bisset, Ed.D, Employment and Training Manager, Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, presented on Keys to a Successful College Experience.


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