Going Away to College (When You Have Depression and/or Anxiety)

  • Understand that this is going to be a big life change. Even if it’s positive and you make lots of new friends and have a great time, it will still cause you stress, which can still trigger depression. Prepare for it just in case.
  • Register with disability services. If you have a diagnosis, find out what resources are available to you on campus. Even if they don’t sound like something you need (like a note-taker, alternate testing locations, etc), they may be useful later.
  • Think about living arrangements. Living with a stranger can be stressful, especially if you have a social anxiety problem, so if you think it would make you feel more comfortable look into solo living arrangements.
  • Get a therapist in the area. Even if you have a really good therapist at home, you will probably need someone to coach you through your first semester, and if you establish a good relationship you can continue to see them throughout your time at school.
  • Consider starting out with a lesser course load. Even if you would like to be a full-time student, there are options. You can always take more credits next semester!
  • Find a schedule that works for you. Studies show that people with depression have altered Circadian rhythms, meaning it may be much harder for you to make it to your 9AM class than it would be for other people. Or maybe you are exhausted by 3PM and would sleep through an evening class. Anticipate this, and try to plan your schedule so poor attendance won’t damage your grade.
  • Identify concrete things you can do to improve your mood. Campus will feel very different from home, and if you are used to petting your dogs to calm down, you are going to be out of luck. Instead, make a physical list of easy things to do when you are upset (like listening to music) that can be done in a variety of settings.
  • Keep in touch with your old friends, but also have a specific person to contact for help. It may take a while to make friends, and you may (understandably) feel really low in the meantime, so ask a family member or an old friend if they will be your go-to when you are upset. Give them some helpful hints about what to say when you call, like maybe your list from the last bullet point, or reminders to breathe deeply and slowly when you have a panic attack. 
  • Join clubs. This is by far the best way to make friends and stay active. Nothing will make you depressed faster than sitting alone in your room.
  • Don’t feel pressured to drink. While there is nothing inherently wrong with drinking in moderation and responsibly, for many college students it becomes their only social activity, and that is NOT healthy. It can also contribute to impulsive behavior, which can lead to self-harm urges and severely unpleasant regret. Also, never let anyone pressure you into drinking more than you want to. Of course, all this advice flies out the window if alcohol would interfere with any medication you might be on. Then you should really be listening to your doctor and not me.
  • Watch your diet. I am NOT saying to count calories, because I don’t believe in that at all. However, you have to think about what kind of “gas” you’re putting in your “tank,” and Cheetos and Mountain Dew are not quality fuel. Instead, try to get a variety of food groups in the dining hall, or get a mini-fridge for ingredients and cook for yourself in the dorms. If you find yourself hungry between meals, smuggle nutritious snacks from the dining hall instead of buying chips from vending machines.
  • Exercise. You may get quite a bit of exercise just walking between classes, but going to the gym is a good way to make friends. Most campus have fun classes like yoga and zumba that are open to everybody.
  • If you start struggling, talk to your professors. Speaking with them after class or sending a simple e-mail that says “I really didn’t understand this assignment” will usually prompt them to show you a host of resources, like tutors, teaching assistants, online help, ad infinitum. Also, you should never feel obligated to disclose to your professors, but I had one tell me that if he had known about my depression, he would have excused all the absences that caused me to fail the class. Be alert and catch these problems early and you will have a lot less trouble.
  • Don’t take this the wrong way, because you are an adult (no matter how scary that sounds!) but going from having your parents around constantly to having no one to look after you can be a really big change. Even if you love the new-found freedom, it can be hard to learn to regulate eating times, study habits, and sleep without your parents breathing down your neck. You should definitely be having fun, but try to stick to a schedule. For example, try doing your homework between classes so you can socialize in the evening. Dedicate Sundays to homework entirely, but do whatever you want Saturday.
  • Take extra care of yourself before and during finals. Finals can be a really stressful time for everybody, but you have to be proactive and start doing things a few weeks before they’re actually due. Never force yourself to pull an all-nighter, but also don’t forego social interaction or food. And no matter how busy you are, take some time for self-care. Leave yourself room to feel accomplished and not just plain old stressed.
  • Take these same precautions when you go home for the first time. While you’re in college, you will be super busy doing the work and adjusting to your new life, but once you come home and see that life in your hometown has gone on without you, you might feel saddened or hurt. I know this happened to me. So please, once the semester has wound down and you are back at home, continue to be kind to yourself and careful with your mental health.

Good luck, and if you have any more questions, you can always ask!

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