National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Tips for Transitioning to College

Check out these tips from young adults living with a mental health condition who have recently transitioned to college and learned a few lessons during the process they would like to share with you!

  • Get in touch with your school’s Disability Resource Center office, or whichever office is responsible for making accommodations for students living with a disability on your campus, ASAP. They often have very early deadlines and specific testing requirements that are not well advertised.
  • Contact a psychiatrist and/or psychologist and set up an appointment for when you arrive on campus. 
  • If you want confidential peer support as a college student, look into peer counseling on campus. Just recognize that peer support is obviously not a substitute for mental health professionals.
  • Locate a local pharmacy where you can get refills of your medications (and make sure to always know when you’re running low!)
  • Find out from your health care provider what to do if you miss a dose of medication. Don’t assume you can just skip the dose, take a double dose next time, etc.  Making your own rules about medications can have disastrous consequences (as I found out my first semester of college!)
  • Get some straight talk on substance use. Young adults at college tend to use substances recreationally, so there will definitely be some temptation. Find out the consequences of mixing your medication with alcohol or drugs, and don’t take any chances!
  • Look into “healthy living” or substance-free dorms. A lot of colleges have specific dorms or floors dedicated to people who choose not to use substances within the dorm or floor.  It might be less distracting to not have drunken people stumbling about your workplace while you’re trying to finish a paper, and, if you can’t use substances due to a past addiction or because of medication use, there will be less temptation to do so. 
  • Be up front with your Residential Provider/Procter/Dean about your condition. I’m not sure what they call it at other schools, but at Harvard we have an alumnus who lives in our entryway and is responsible for resolving conflicts within the entryway and advocating for his residents. You may think you’re doing well enough to not mention your illness to anyone, but all it takes is one crisis or a medication mishap (trust me here, I speak from personal experience!) to mess you up academically.
  • Don’t tell your professors about your condition unless it’s interfering with your academic performance. They don’t have a pressing need to know, and, if need be, you can back up your need for accommodations or otherwise unexplained absences with notes from the Disability Resource Center or your school’s health services.
  • That said, don’t lie to cover your condition. Don’t say you had the stomach flu, got a concussion or had a job interview when you really missed class because of a problem with your mental health. Professors have ways of checking these things. Just tell them you had a personal problem and get a note from your health care provider to back you up.
  • Consider disclosing your condition to one close friend. Don’t go around telling everyone you have a mental health condition, but if you get close enough to someone, it might help to have a friend to talk to about your experiences.