Making mental health a priority in college

Making mental health a priority in college

by Merritt Hays

As a college student, it is easy to feel like a walking statistic when it comes to mental health. There is a plethora of resources on campus and off, overflowing with people who truly want you to succeed. It is also easy to become a victim of the mental health stigma, and it’s not easy for me to admit that I am guilty of that as well. I am someone who advocates for mental health but am still the last to admit when I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I find myself wondering if I am anxious enough to even qualify as someone who needs help (that’s the anxiety speaking by the way). However, I am also someone who actively engages and believes in self-care and the importance of reflecting on mental health. So, I’m sharing some of the most valuable lessons I have learned (and am still learning) when it comes to putting mental health first.


  1. Balance, balance, balance

I cannot stress this enough. Finding balance and routine will help tremendously, especially as a college student. There is so much to take in when you arrive on your first day.

Imagine those movie scenes where the college student gets dropped off and immediately has a crowd of people handing them flyers

“Check out the gym! Don’t forget your free T-Shirt! Welcome to your new dorm room! Take a tour!” It is overwhelming, to say the least. You are suddenly in the driver’s seat of your life, with about 20 different routes in front of you. So, you take it day by day. It is important that you do not strive for instant perfection when it comes to balance, allow your routine to adapt and evolve with you as your environment and priorities change. Find a routine that works for you with the proper blend of social, school, and self.

  1. Learn to say no

I chuckled as I wrote that headline. I am the queen of yes. Even if it means putting myself last, I will make it work to meet the needs of anyone and everyone. So I am writing this one for the both of us. Sometimes you just have to say no. For YOU and only you (remember, you are in the driver’s seat now). That being said, don’t ‘no’ your way all the way to the center of your comfort zone (I told you it was all about balance, didn’t I?).

  1. Help.

Gulp. This is a big one. If you feel for even one second like you could use some help, don’t talk yourself out of it, and don’t overthink every possible scenario. Make that appointment. There are people with their arms open waiting for you to arrive; no matter who you are, and no matter how insignificant you think your problems may be. The last thing any medical professional wants to hear is that there is someone out there struggling to get through the day, but is afraid to get help.

  1. Train yourself to be reflective and self-aware

Realistically, this it is something I will be working on for the rest of my life. I have a problem-solving-scientific brain that battles with my irrational anxiety brain on a daily basis. So how can I let my problem-solving brain win? I am constantly asking myself why I feel a certain way or why I have an impulse to act a certain way. And I can usually trace my mental steps back to the source. Now, I am not saying that you are responsible for handling this alone. But I am saying that you can supply yourself with the tools to begin to tackle anxious thoughts in the moment. Find the things that trigger your anxiety, and don’t allow those things to control you. I am easily overwhelmed by uncertainty, and while it is impossible to avoid uncertainty in college, it is possible to try and embrace it and welcome change. I encourage you to take a step back and take a look at yourself from the inside out. Find out how are you going to get through the next second, the next hour or the next day, and don’t stop until you get there.

  1. Find what makes you happy

I mean truly happy. This one is probably pretty obvious, but it could arguably be the most important of all. For many college students, you have to leave everything behind and start over. Take advantage of this new situation; consider it a playground of discovery. At times it can be easy to just go through the motions (school, work, home, repeat.) Find things that you are passionate about, things that you know will make you happy when you need a pick me up. Immerse yourself in things that make you happy in times when you feel overwhelmed.

Mental Health 101 – that’s all folks! Just kidding1  In all seriousness, I hope you can take away a tip or two from my ever-evolving mental health toolkit. Remember that there are resources all around you and that you are never alone. Anxiety comes in all forms (and I am not just reading that from the poster in front of me, I mean it). In fact, this is the first time I have been completely transparent about my anxiety. Remember to always carry around a pair of metaphorical glasses with you, the ones that help you see the world through the eyes of a stranger. That is how we will destigmatize mental health once and for all.

Don’t be afraid to get the help that you need/deserve. Here are some resources:

24/7 crisis and emergency services line through Mind Springs: 888.207.4004

To make an appointment with the student wellness center ($5 copay for students) call:  970.644.3740

Check out this website for a ton of online resources for college students, including a self-evaluation tool:

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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