7 Mental Health Awareness Tips for College Students
This past month has been incredibly trying for students, faculty and staff at Binghamton University. There are many reasons for this, ranging from global events to immediate tragedy striking right at the heart of campus. As a senior at Binghamton, I have experienced the immense and ongoing difficulty of grieving and dealing with health and relational issues in an academic environment displaced from home. However, I have also experienced the meaningful embrace of support from the University, the community and my personal relationships here in Binghamton. Suffering demands a response, and I have seen the campus respond with grief, compassion and action. In order to contribute to this response, I have found it helpful to start in a place of habitual and emotional strength. It does not come easy, and can sometimes feel trivial and selfish. However, these activities, applied in healthy ways, contribute significantly to increasing our physical and emotional capacities for compassion. Here are several tips for mental health awareness I recommend in solidarity with the CARE team and Counseling Center here at Binghamton.
Take some time to journal
More often than not, the pile-up of stressors or unresolved emotions in our minds can result in feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. If we never take the time to validate those feelings and investigate their causes, they become difficult to manage and improve. Journaling helps us process our life experiences and thoughts through writing to a real or imagined audience. Since I am a verbal processor, I often make a voice journal and record myself, which I listen to at later dates. This method helps me ground myself in the moment and reveals patterns in my responses to life’s challenges. Check out the Counseling Center’s tips on journaling. There are also a number of apps that can help remind you to journal and stay aware of your mood and behavior.
Learn how to help better by setting boundaries
Sharing in each other’s burdens and investing in the people we love is one of the most wonderful things about being human. However, there is an extent to which you should evaluate your ability and capacity to assist others. Have a friend or counselor help you establish boundaries for the benefit of you and the people you support. You should never be the sole bearer of your burdens, much less someone else’s. Graciously help them connect to resources at the school and other trusted people who care about them. Health Promotion and Prevention Services has tips on how to help a friend struggling with suicidal thoughts, anxiety or depression.
Join a community
“Atomization” is a term used to describe the isolation of individuals believed to be self-sufficient in modern society. While being an individual is significant, there are a wealth of benefits in community. It is helpful to determine your interests, values and identity in order to seek out a community that will accept, support and challenge you. My involvement in the many clubs and organizations at Binghamton as well as my local church has been instrumental in my support and personal development.
Manage stress by practicing mindfulness
Stress often has a negative connotation, but can be helpful in achieving our goals and keeping ourselves safe. The goal of stress management is to reduce negative stress (distress) and come to grips with the emotions that enrich but also frustrate our lived experience. I find that taking the time to intentionally speak to members of my support system (friends, family, mentors, counselor) is the most helpful for stress, but I need reliable, daily methods to take care of myself. The Counseling Center recommends this resource from the Center of Clinical Interventions, which details methods of tolerating distress and practicing mindfulness. Some of these include muscle relaxation, grounding exercises and positive self-talk.
Find a creative outlet
As someone who enjoys art and writing, creativity is a safe haven and playground for many of my emotions and experiences. It is important to recognize that sometimes your creative outlet is just for you. Take some pressure off yourself and create for the sake of creating. If you are not a creative person, you may find that introducing yourself to a new art-making habit (painting, poetry, knitting, etc.) might be beneficial even if you feel that you are not very good at it. Art-making and creativity instill a sense of purpose — no matter how small — that builds confidence, discipline and perseverance.
Care for your body with exercise, sleep and nutrition
I used to roll my eyes at mental health advice that emphasized any of these things. However, after implementing these disciplines more consistently in my life, I recognized just how important they are. It is essential to remember that you are living inside a body, and not just a body, but one that is intricately connected to the emotions and intellect that you consider part of your conscious experience. If you find time to intentionally move your body, practice sleep hygiene, and pay attention to what and how you eat, you will find that these things holistically contribute to your personal betterment. I will not include practical advice for these categories, because I am aware that many people have complex relationships with exercise, sleep and food that require nuanced solutions. However, you can peruse the Binghamton Counseling Center and the recommended Centre for Clinical Interventions’ individual self-help pages for health and identity-specific concerns.
Evaluate yourself or ask someone to help you
It is easy to write a list of mental health tips. It can be difficult to find ways to motivate and implement these practices, especially if you are unaware of the nature of your mental health concern. Binghamton’s Counseling Center has anonymous self-screening tests to help you identify the type and severity of any mental health symptoms that you may experience. Note that these self-screenings are not a replacement for a diagnosis from a mental health professional. After self-evaluating, ask trustworthy people who spend time around you about their observations of your mood and behavior. Also, do not hesitate to get in contact with the CARE team, Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD,) or counseling services on campus. Personally, SSD’s support was essential during some of the most trying times of my college experience. Since these services offer resources and options that you may not otherwise know about or consider, it can never hurt to reach out. Check out 33 Health and Wellness Resources at Binghamton University for more specifics on what the University offers.
Stephen Folkerts is an intern for the Office of Public Media and Relations, and a senior majoring in English. He hopes to work in ministry and publishing. In his spare time, he enjoys jazz drumming, poetry and basketball.
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