Beginning your first year of college can inspire several emotions. From the first day of classes to finding your place in a sea of new faces, entering a university can be extremely exciting or exceptionally stressful. This can be an even more difficult transition when you are entering college as someone who openly identifies as LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) and needs support navigating your academic journey.
Whether it’s finding the right academic club or LGBTQ+ resource that can aid in the transition from high school, being LGBTQ+ and new on a college campus can be fraught with troubles. For some students, the first question that comes to mind might be how inviting the college campus is or how truly accessible these LGBTQ+ resources are. This concern often leads to conversations around the need for queer students to be informed of what programs and services their campus offers when speaking specifically about mental health and wellness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that LGBTQ+ people are almost three times more likely to experience a mental health condition. For those in the community, many are dealing with issues related to societal bias, systems of fear, and trauma related to both gender and sexuality. Mental health is something that, for many, is hidden because of stigma related to intersectional identities.
Rates of mental illness continue to be higher for those who identify as bisexual/questioning. Those in this population between the ages of 18-24 are three times more likely to attempt suicide. The rates are even higher for transgender students, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide, with 38%-65% experiencing suicidal ideation.
For many incoming LGBTQ+ students, fear becomes the leading reason they refuse to reach out for care. For students to successfully maintain their mental health in the first year of college, here are some tips to help find support and achieve success.
Be Upfront About Your Needs
The most common mistake incoming LGBTQ+ students make is not being forthright about their needs. What students often forget is that many of their RAs, professors, and other administrators have expertise around the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Professionals are not able to assist, however, if they are not aware of the needs LGBTQ+ students have. Not being forthright about your needs can not only be detrimental to academic experience and success, but can have long term affects on your overall academic journey.
Reach out to the health center as soon as possible to learn what mental health resources your institution provides. Most universities provide 5-10 complementary visits to an on-campus counselor before you are referred out for additional care.
Finding a Quality Mental Health Service Professional
There have been several studies and articles about students suffering in silence while navigating their early experience of higher education. Many of them have shared that they feel alone or misunderstood when talking about their mental health, leaving them worried about succeeding on their academic journey.
As someone who utilized mental health services for all four years of college, I know how important it is to find people on your campus who can point you toward quality mental health services. Heading into your health center and asking (or demanding) someone to assist you is essential to your health and overall academic success.
Most health centers have someone on staff who specializes in the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals. If a center does not have these resources, you usually can find someone on campus or in partnership with an organization that does. Some small rural colleges may not have these options, but there are several community support services that might be able to assist you as needed.
If you don’t find in-person mental health services on campus convenient or affordable enough, consider online therapy. It can be a great option for students who want to quickly and confidentially connect with therapists who specialize in treating LGBTQ+ populations.
Find Student Support Groups
One of the best suggestions I have seen so far about maintaining mental health in the first year of college is finding those who may be more tapped into the campus climate. Though putting yourself out there to meet other LGBTQ+ students may seem tough, it can be the one tactic that helps you survive the first year blues.
Pride and LGBTQ+ Centers are often great resources for those who might be looking for a community, but there are usually additional groups and organizations on campus that might serve as auxiliary support systems, depending on your level of comfort. For some, joining a honor society might work, or getting involved with a club that focuses on social justice and action might be a better fit. You may even want to connect with your Gender Studies/Women’s Studies department to find out what clubs and resources on campus can help you navigate your first year journey.
In all, the first year of college is tough and the pressure can increase once you begin focusing on your queer identity. Finding a sense of space and belonging is important to your success, but having quality resources to help you maintain your mental wellness is essential.
Keep in mind that transitioning to college is difficult, but the full burden of maintaining your mental wellness does not have to rest solely on your shoulders. Continue to reach out and ask the important questions about your mental health. It’s your right, not only as a student, but as a valued person of the LGBTQ+ community.