Ten Things I Learned as an Undergrad with Mental Health Disorders

Getting through college with any mental health disorder, any number of mental health disorders, is not an easy task.

Sometimes, it will leave you feeling like you’re drowning—suffocated by social, academic, and financial responsibilities.
Sometimes, it will leave you frustrated to the point of tears.
Sometimes, it will leave you so overwhelmed that you want to flip the desk at which you sit and kick a whole in the wall of the lecture hall.
Sometimes, it will leave you feeling so despairingly hopeless that it’s infuriating.

All of these things… sometimes, they will leave you feeling like throwing in the towel—like giving up and dropping is your only option.


Do. Not. Give. Up.

In four years, you learn a lot. And despite the fact I am a senior by credit hour, I will not graduate this Spring. I still have another year to go. Why? Because I am stubborn. Because I learn lessons the hard way.

So why am I writing this article?

Because I want someone else to do what I did not: do it the easy way, save some money (we all know how expensive college can get), and do so with as little stress as possible. Like I didn’t.


1. Right off the bat: take a step back and breathe.

Just take a deep breath. Everything. Is. Going. To. Be. Okay. Clear your mind, even if just for a few seconds, so you can come back with an empty space to put everything in its proper mental folder. Get your thoughts, emotions, and priorities in proper place. Write it down if it makes it easier to have it visually mapped out in front of you.

2. Take it one day, one assignment, one exam, one quiz, one paper, one work day at a time.

Sounds impossible in college, right? You’ve got two midterms, a paper due, a quiz, two homework assignments, and a presentation all in the same week. Oh, and don’t forget the readings you’re supposed to do before class because the lectures are “just for review”. It’s all right. Get ahead. Study a week, two weeks, in advance and go back every day, two days, to refresh. The earlier you study and the more you go back to look at the notes, the easier it will be to remember the information, even when you have six other assignments to mentally juggle.

3. Don’t take on more than you can handle.

Each person is unique when it comes to what they can handle in terms of course loads, work schedules (if working at all), and extracurriculars (if any). You’ll only leave yourself feeling more overwhelmed if you do too much. It’s recommended that students only work 20 hours per work with a full-time course load to maintain the necessary amount of study time to achieve desired grades, if at all. I worked 24-30 hours per work during my first two years in university. My GPA suffered, along with my (at-the-time) untreated mood, anxiety, somatoform, and personality disorder.

4. Fact or fiction: You must take 15 hours per semester in college to graduate in four years. You will not be successful if you do not take 15 hours per semester or if you fail to graduate in four years.

FICTION. Fifteen hours in a regular semester is an incredibly heavy course load. If you can handle that, then do it. If not, like myself, take 12 hours. That’s still full time. Take 12 hours in the regular semesters [Fall and Spring] and two classes during the summer. It’s the equivalent of two 15 hour semesters. You’ll still graduate in four years. And if you can’t handle a full-time course load? Go part-time. That’s okay, too. Only take on what you can handle.

5. Talk to your professors

Professors aren’t scary, inhuman, unfeeling robots without hearts. Many of them do genuinely care, and they are willing to work with you. Just talk to them. Disclose what you’re comfortable disclosing. They’re typically in accommodating your situation. Unfortunately, there are those that are not helpful, that do not care, and are not going be very kind, but those are generally speaking, the minority.

6. Utilize Student Mental Health Services

Many colleges have some form of mental health provision for their students, such as: short-term individual therapy, referral to long-term therapy, group counseling, psychiatry, learning disability testing, crisis intervention, student sobriety groups, other group therapies, and other varieties of assistance depending on the size of the college. Don’t be afraid to go. That’s what they’re there for, and they’re there to support your psychological health.

7. If Applicable to You, Consider Filing for Mental Health with Student Disability Services

Filing for Mental Health with SDS can benefit you in leniency with absences if you happen to have counseling appointments that cannot be scheduled outside of class times, debilitating depressive, manic, or other episodes of some type, or illnesses related to mental health or medications. You can take exams in the Testing Services office, a quieter environment, if needed, or be given extra time on exams, if needed. They accommodate mental health needs as they would physical health needs. Professors must comply with the ADA regulations regarding mental health disorders as they would physical health disorders.

8. Do Your Best.

Sometimes your best is only making it to one class… or none, because you couldn’t get out of bed that day. Your anxiety got to you. You had a panic attack. Your social anxiety had you locked in your apartment/dorm/etc. for several hours. You had a psychotic episode. Whatever the case may be, sometimes, your best is just getting out of bed and bathing. And good job, because you did your best. That shower, the fact that you got out of bed and put pants on, you went out and did the dishes, you took out the trash—you accomplished something, and those small accomplishments are meaningful, too.

9. Take Time to Relax

Do something nice for yourself. Do something fun. Watch a couple of episodes of your favorite show on Netflix for a study break. Treat yourself to some ice cream or a beer or a meal at your favorite fast food place with friends now and then. Take a bubble bath. Read a couple of chapters of your favorite book. Surf the web or play video games for 30 minutes. Do something that you enjoy and let yourself enjoy it. Don’t let those worries settle in. Don’t let the “I should be…” or “I wouldn’t have…” creep into your mind. Try not to spoil your “You Time” with that, because you deserve it.

10. Be Kind to Yourself

Remind yourself that it’s okay to have a bad day. We, as humans, are imperfect creatures. We make mistakes. We screw up. We fail tests. We fail quizzes. We forget about an assignment here and there. It’s okay. Pick yourself up. You failed a test? Take that energy and channel it into finding out where you went wrong and study harder. Forgot an assignment? Get a planner and write out everything that’s due from all of your syllabuses. Tedious, yes, but you won’t forget. Muscle memory and maintenance rehearsal are wonderful things. Screwed up at work? It’s all right. We all have our off days. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Take that screw-up as constructive criticism. Remind yourself of something you did well that day, too. You failed that test, but you also remembered to turn in an assignment. Your boss passed along a compliment from a customer on your service. Your mother told you she was proud of you because you were dealing with so much and pushing through.

There are always going to be difficulties. Always. It’s going to be hard, but you know what? Where we, as humans, inherently flawed; however, we make up for it in resiliency and innovation. We are resourceful creatures. You are a resourceful, persevering, human being. And you know what? I believe in you; I believe in me. I believe in all of us.

~We can do this. Together.~

Author: JamieMakesTendies

Student pursuing a degree in psychology with a concentration in clinical psych. I enjoy writing, watching baseball, foreign languages, and being a massive nerd.

2 thoughts on “Ten Things I Learned as an Undergrad with Mental Health Disorders”

  1. I’m a college senior and this post needs more attention to everyone who is going through finals right now. Very well written


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