There is support available if you or a friend is experiencing any kind of crisis, and it’s a good idea to know about those resources in advance. If something starts bothering you or affecting your physical or mental health, the best course of action is often to speak with doctors or counselors, or call emergency services if the situation is dire. Health professionals can help you design a specific treatment plan or develop the coping strategies that you need while emergency services can take care of more immediate concerns.
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What kind of support is available on campus?
- Campus health center: Almost all schools have health clinics with doctors and nurses on staff. They are often used for informational purposes, but your school’s clinic might accept your insurance. It is a good idea to check out your campus health center when you arrive to start your freshman year. The center can explain the resources that are offered, and you will be well-acquainted in advance, before you need to rely on its services.
- Campus mental health center: Depending on the size of your school, it might have a mental health center that is separate from the health clinic. Mental health centers are often staffed by experienced counselors and therapists. They either work with your insurance or offer discounted services to students. Sometimes they offer one-on-one appointments. Other times, they offer support systems or group therapy. They can also help you find resources near campus if you need more specific treatment.
- Friends: Don’t underestimate what your friends can do for you. If your campus is far away from home, your friends become a surrogate family. If you need help, reach out. You’re all in this together.
- Family back home: Your family has known you since you were born. Your parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family are there for you if you’re struggling with a problem. They know you well, and they can help you figure out the right course of action to take, be it leaving school for a semester, visiting a rehabilitation center, or finding a mental health professional near you.
How can I take care of myself?
Not everyone has the courage to recognize their harmful behaviors or signs of mental illnesses. If you classify your mental health as poor, for whatever reason, the good news is that you’re on the path to feeling better. Recognition is the first step, and it’s important. Once you notice a problem, follow up:
- Seek help. There’s no reason to go at it alone when there are so many people in your corner. If something is bothering you, reach out to a mental health professional or doctor for help. That person can connect you with the specific resources that you need. You may also prefer to confide in a friend or family member. Your loved ones can help you research treatments and clinics, then accompany you through anything. You’re not the only one who struggles with your mental health, and you might be surprised by how many people can relate to your journey.
- Don’t self-medicate. Sometimes doctors prescribe medications to help control a patient’s illness. It’s important to remember that you aren’t a doctor. Do not take pills without consulting a doctor. It’s also crucial that you avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. These substances interact with your body’s chemistry. The escapism might feel good in the moment, but many people who struggle with mental illness are prone to develop addictions to these drugs. Doctors everywhere recommend that you abstain from substance use, at least until you have a handle on your mental health.
- Seek alone time. If you’re struggling with something internally, privacy and alone time can help you rest and relax, which your mind is sure to appreciate. Alone time can help you feel more creative and focused. It also gives you time to process the stressors in your life.
- Be proactive. While you may need to see a doctor or counselor about your mental health, you can also take some steps to ensure that it doesn’t worsen. Talk to a friend or family member. Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water to nourish your body. Exercise, walk, paint, write—do what makes you happy. Ask a friend to join you.
How can I help a loved one in need?
If you recognize that a loved one is engaging in unhealthy behaviors or showing signs of mental illness, you can show that you care. Your actions speak louder than your words. Mental illness can frustrate those who are outside of it, so take care to be patient, gentle, compassionate, and understanding. Here’s what you can do:
- Notice changes in behavior. If your bubbly friend is suddenly withdrawn, take note. Stress, relationships, and family issues affect everyone sometimes, but changes in behavior sometimes connote bigger issues.
- Listen. Approach your friend if he or she is upset, frustrated, or angry. Let him or her know that you are willing to listen. You are a friend for a reason: You care. Invite your friend over to your dorm room for coffee or get ice cream together and walk around campus. An hour or two of your time can go a long way.
- Show unconditional love. Many people who are struggling with substance abuse or poor mental health are afraid to speak up because they fear they will be isolated or stigmatized. If your friend is confiding in you, stay strong for that person. Take care not to show signs that you are shocked, outraged, or judging. If something upsets you, wait until you are alone to physically respond to the news. This means that you should try not to cry or scream while you’re in your friend’s presence. Try to remain a constant source of calm when you are around your loved one. Even in the most serious moments of crisis—a friend’s suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts, for example—do your best to remain calm and reassuring as you seek help. Luckily, most people find that their bodies go on autopilot during these moments. If you learn about a friend’s mental illness, do not gossip behind that person’s back. There is a difference between seeking help from a counselor for a friend’s dangerous behavior and telling your roommate about your mutual friend’s eating disorder. If you are upset and you want to talk about the situation, rely on friends or family members who are not involved. You may want to call your parents or a high school friend. Try not to use your loved one’s name to protect his or her privacy.
- Only make promises you can keep. If your friend admits to having suicidal thoughts, do not promise to keep them a secret. Those thoughts are putting your friend in danger, and you should reach out to emergency services immediately. That said, you can promise not to gossip or tell mutual friends. If you’re speaking with your friend, and he or she wants to tell you something but is asking you to promise to keep it a secret first, your response should sound something like this: “I can only promise that if you aren’t thinking about harming yourself or others. Otherwise, yes, I can keep whatever it is between us.”
- Give focused advice. Reassure your friend that you are always available to listen, but don’t be afraid to recommend that your friend also seek professional help or change certain behaviors. If you’re asked to give advice, be sincere. It’s okay to say, “It sounds like you should end your relationship.” You can also say, “I’m worried about how you’re dealing with your past.” Never blame your friend, however. It’s counterproductive to say, “You’re doing this to yourself.” It also shows that you don’t understand much about your friend’s problem.
- Learn about the situation. If your loved one is experiencing a mental illness or mental health crisis, for whatever reason, read about it. There is plenty of information out there that touches on substance abuse, abusive relationships, self-injury, bullying, and mental illness. Check credible websites such as NAMI, the CDC, and MentalHealth.gov. Taking the time to understand the situation is key. It helps you focus your advice, and it gives you an idea of how you can help your friend veer away from the situation in the future. Informing yourself also helps you become a better advocate. You can dissolve any stigma that you’ve internalized over the years and speak up if you hear anyone make insensitive comments about poor mental health.
- Don’t enable bad behaviors. Care enough about your friend’s situation to help him or her recover. If you know your friend is struggling with substance abuse, do not lend money. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, do not offer to go on a double date. If you know that your friend has a problem with cutting, remove knives that you see in his or her dorm room. Of course, you cannot expect your friend to recover overnight, but you can do your part to encourage healing in the meantime.
- Take care of yourself. Supporting someone in crisis can be exhausting. You cannot take on all of your loved one’s struggles; you will break under the pressure. Take time for yourself. Go for a run. Make time for your homework. In sum, do not change your routine. It’s important that you maintain your emotional health. This will help you better support your friend, and it will protect your own mental health.
Page last updated: 12/2016