Fall is fast approaching. The air is getting crisper, and the back to school ads are out in full force. College students are stepping onto campuses all over the country, some for the first time. There is a palpable buzz of excitement as dorms fill up once more.
But college can also be a stressful experience. For some students the feelings of anticipation are overshadowed by homesickness, worry, self-doubt and sadness.
Whether you’re heading back to college for your senior year or you’re an incoming freshman, this time of year brings out a pretty intense range of emotions. College is a period of major self-discovery. While it can be thrilling, it’s often stressful as well. Some students are worried about missing friends and family, nervous about moving away from home, excited for a new experience but dreading starting classes.
For students who are nearing the end of their college careers, the future looms ominously. It can be difficult to wrap their heads around it all.
To some extent, all of these emotions are normal. Starting college is a huge milestone after all. Like with any major change, there is a period of adjustment involved. Nonetheless, these emotions can quickly develop into something more difficult to control, from uncomfortable stress to a diagnosable mental illness. Stress and mental health issues can wreak havoc on your ability to focus in school, and can even leave your body feeling sore, sick and worn out.
It isn’t easy being away from your support system while you are adjusting to college life, so if you’re having trouble concentrating, keeping yourself healthy, or generally being happy, you may want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. In-person or online therapy is definitely an option to consider.
Combatting the Stigma of Therapy
It’s surprising, but even in 2017, therapy is still stigmatized. The majority of mental illnesses begin before age 24. 1 in 5 students will face a mental health condition, but most are still not seeking help. Social stigma is the top reason they are coping alone.
While this stigma remains, it doesn’t seem to be caused by students gossiping or outwardly mocking their peers who seek mental health treatment. While occasionally college students can be outwardly divisive regarding issues surrounding mental health, this stigma, more than anything, seems to stem from a lack of discussion.
Schools are reaching out to encourage students to seek mental health treatment. But until students normalize the need for therapy and other treatments, the stigma will remain. RAs on college campuses are being taught how to spot mental illness in their peers, and how to encourage those they look after to seek help, but it’s up to all students to start talking about these issues. Therapy can be daunting, but with so many students suffering silently, mental health treatment needs to be seen as a viable and completely healthy resource.
If you’re planning on making a therapy appointment, you might be having a hard time shaking this stigma from your subconscious, and that’s completely OK. A range of emotions from embarrassment, nerves and even anticipation are totally normal.
Fortunately, no one needs to know you’re speaking to a therapist unless you want them to. Even if you’re feeling a bit negative toward the idea, give it a try. Whether it’s a one-time visit or a long-term commitment, therapy is an excellent way to get some negative emotions off your chest.
Therapy isn’t only for those who have a mental illness. Working with a therapist can simply be preventative medicine. When physical and mental health are so intrinsically linked, neither should be thought of as more important than the other. The back pain that’s distracting from your homework might be tension-based, and therapy can help with that.
Consider Spreading the Word
If you feel comfortable sharing your experiences in therapy, talk about it with your friends and peers. The first step to curbing the mental health crisis facing college students is eliminating the stigma surrounding reaching out for help. By being open about mental health treatment, we can normalize both therapy and mental illness.
Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and college is certainly a stressful enough situation without any added pressures. Opening up about your experience with therapy, sharing resources and encouraging peers who seem like they could use some help can make a world of difference. Guiding people toward therapy can even keep more students on track to completing their degrees. Encourage your friends to check in with someone if they seem like they’re struggling, and give yourself permission to do the same.