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How College Students Can Prioritize Mental Health While Living on Campus

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Meera Menon is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Medical Center where she specializes in young adult mental health. She offered her top tips for college students looking to manage the stressors of higher education, as well as how to find and access mental health resources on campuses across the country.

Meera Menon, M.D.

Chair, Caucus on College Mental Health, American Psychiatric Association

How does pursuing higher education affect students’ mental health?

While pursuing higher education can come with its own set of stressors, it actually can be a really protective environment because of what comes with it. Being a college or university student provides the structure of having a set schedule, a set routine. And there are readily accessible places on campus where you can get meals, and housing is provided. There are coordinated support systems, and places to exercise and do different wellness activities, and seek out mental health treatment.

Largely, students and young adults tend to be healthier while living on a college campus. I think there are things to be wary of, like learning how to transition to living life on your own without close family supports to keep you in line, navigating decisions about substance use and what to eat throughout the day — things along those lines.

Have there been any recent developments in higher education that have significantly impacted students’ mental health or their ability to access mental health resources?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities had access to CARES Act funds, and a lot of those funds were used to support mental health resources. They created this fund to support students who needed to be in the hospital for mental health reasons, or to seek different, higher levels of care, or even ongoing psychotherapy in some schools.

Ohio State University, for example, has been able to continue this effort of supporting students’ mental health long after the height of the pandemic. And many other colleges and universities are trying to create more programs to improve the mental health of students.

Another thing that’s happening more and more is different preventative programming to build resilience and mental wellness — trying to prevent students from needing to enter treatment more urgently by giving them the skills they need upfront. There’s been a shift to that more preventative work and support, which I think is really helpful.

What mental health resources are available to and should be utilized by students in higher education?

Mental health resources do vary from college to college, so what I would recommend is using your residential adviser (RA) as a resource for identifying some of the different things on campus. You should also have opportunities during orientation to learn about some of the different resources available to you.

Many campuses have counseling centers on campus that include therapy and may even include medication management. If your college has a student wellness center,
those typically have a lot of really good programs to help improve overall mental health and wellness.

Here at Ohio State, the Student Wellness Office has financial coaching, so they might not tell you specifics about where to invest your money, but they’ll talk to you about the risks of certain types of investments and how to make a budget, both of which are stressful things to learn about once you’re on your own. We also have nutrition coaching, so if you want to meet with a professional dietitian, you have that available.

I would also recommend that you look at the different resources on campus to learn about some of those coping strategies I mentioned earlier. For example, your college counseling center will likely have programs where they teach about how to deal with and overcome perfectionism, or how to manage anxiety around finals and other big exams.

One last thing I’ll recommend is for students to get involved. It’s really easy to feel isolated on campus because you’re in a new environment and you’re not necessarily bringing all your friends from childhood with you. Getting involved in a student organization that interests you can be a really good way to make friends and build your community, which is really important in order to not feel so isolated.

I think a lot of college students are feeling more and more isolated because of aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is really useful to join these different organizations if only to learn how to make friends and build those connections.

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