By Allison Cresswell
Growing up, “college” means something different to everyone. You may be the first in your family to go to college, or you could have decided at age 5 you were going to Auburn because your parents went there. For some, college means traveling across the country leaving everything and everyone you have been accustomed to your whole life. For others, college means living at home and going to the community college ten minutes up the road.
Everyone has different paths, but regardless of that path, college is a new lifestyle that all students have to adapt to.
Mental health issues exist during every phase of life, but what a lot of people forget is that these mental health problems can multiply tenfold when you attend college. Even if you grew up your whole life mentally stable and healthy, it still is a smart idea to stay on top of your mental health.
For me, my freshman year was extremely difficult. Before starting my first semester at VCU, I was actively involved with soccer my whole life, grew up with 6 brothers and sisters, and was even the Prom Queen my senior year of high school. I thought college was going to be awesome! Despite all of my excitement, I was extremely depressed during my first semester. I found it impossible to cope. For months, I couldn’t sleep, my appetite disappeared, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I couldn’t understand how some of my best friends were having the time of their life, while I felt like a zombie.
I eventually saw a school therapist during my second semester. I wish I had gone earlier, but I had no idea that a free counseling program existed. As the weather got warmer, I started to feel better. I met more people, started paying more attention in my classes, and finally had an appetite again! My sophomore year I joined a sorority and got involved with several organizations on campus. Not only did I feel like myself again, but I loved VCU and my new life there.
Looking back, I wish I had done a few things differently so I could have had a more positive experience during my freshman year. I cannot stress enough the importance of each of the following pieces of advice:
1. Get involved early. This is the biggest regret I have! Joining Alpha Gamma Delta was the best thing I did in college. You meet tons of people! It gives you a “home” away from your actual home. Even if you aren’t interested in a sorority, there are tons of clubs every school has to offer! I was also a part of a Spring Break Volunteer program, a nonprofit organization, and got involved with the school’s fashion show. I made so many amazing memories.
2. Stay active! Join club sports teams, go to the gym, and play on intramural sports teams. It is such a stress reliever and studies have shown that staying active is great for your mental health.
3. Stay physically healthy. Eat your vitamins. Even if Taco Bell is open 24 hours on your campus, think about how your stomach will feel the next day!
4. Stay on top on your school’s calendar. Don’t wait until after you have graduated to know all of the cool things your school has to offer! At VCU there was a kayaking event that would happen once a month on the James River. Also, once a year we would host a “Qatar Day” where they would bring in live camels for students to feed. These things are usually free for students and tons of fun!
5. Know your school’s resources. If you feel like you are struggling with all of the sudden changes, make sure to seek out your school’s counseling program. They are there to help students like you! Do not be embarrassed. Everybody goes through hard times.
6. Be open with your roommates about boundaries from the very beginning. One of the reasons I felt so uncomfortable my freshman year is because of roommate drama. Examples: If you don’t want them eating your food, make it clear. If you want to have a friend or your significant other stay the night, make sure to give them a heads up!
7. Check out local restaurant deals. Usually shops and restaurants on or by a college campus have great student deals. Get a group together and make ½ off tater tots a weekly ritual.
8. Monitor your alcohol intake. This may be a given, but it really is true. Alcohol is a depressant. If you notice that you feel extremely happy while drinking but the next day you have extremely depressing thoughts, visit your school’s counselor.
9. Utilize & become friends with your R.A. They are older and probably have some good advice!
10. Plan out weekends to visit your old friends at other colleges. You get to experience another school’s culture and catch up with your friends. Don’t make a habit out of it, though, as you want to establish friendships on your own campus, too!
11. Stay organized. Even though your freshman year consists of mostly “general education” classes that may seem easy to you, it still is important to develop good habits.
If I had followed this advice, I would be able to look back at my freshman year much differently. In college, strive to be the best version of yourself. This means staying on top of your mental health!