6 Life-Saving Tips for Managing Mental Illness in College

6 Life-Saving Tips for Managing Mental Illness in College

Anyone who has gone through any major life change while managing a mental illness knows that these moments are nothing to take lightly. Events such as a job change, moving to a new home, or even starting college (for the first time or fifth time) can cause an increase in symptoms and make the change a lot harder to transition to than one would hope for. I for one know the private struggle of many of these things while managing mental illness.

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a good majority of my life and have since been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. These times are when I need support the most. But that doesn’t mean that support is always available. It is a good idea to learn how to provide the necessary support for yourself when you are going through major life changes because if you don’t, they could cause your mental health to decline rapidly. This is especially true when you are managing mental illness in college.

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College & My Mental Illness

For many of us college students, new and returning, our new semester and school-year has just begun. I can feel the anxiety rising as I scramble to get all of my textbooks without falling too far behind. I can also sense the impending doom I’m going to feel when it comes time for finals. Yes, already even though my semester just began 6 days ago. But how am I going to manage the whole semester when I can already feel the pressure of the final exam? This is a huge distraction for me and it doesn’t go away until I get my final grade and know that I passed.

I already know that I’m going to have a heck of a time this semester because my classes are evening classes and we meet one night a week. That’s one 2-hour and 45-minute class per week to learn high-level course material. And I’m already freaking out because, for one of my four courses, our final exam is a 6-hour exam. No, I didn’t type that wrong. It’s a full six hours and I’ve already heard people say that they didn’t get a chance to finish it.

So how exactly am I going to manage my coursework and manage my symptoms throughout the fifteen weeks I am in this and other courses? Well, it’s actually pretty simple, to be honest. I have a method that I use every semester that keeps me on top of my grades and lowers my stress-level regarding my coursework.

Of course, this is in conjunction with therapy and counseling. But as a college student, I know how expensive therapy can be and I just want to let you know that you have low-cost options available to you. You just have to trust that a high price tag doesn’t always mean it’s better. BetterHelp is a great resource to check out for more information on low-cost counseling and therapy sessions.

Don't let your mental illness get in the way of your college success. Here are 8 tips that save my college education each semester. Learn how you can manage your mental illness in college.

Is This Really Possible?

I’m going to tell you, yes. Yes, managing your mental illness and succeeding in college is very possible. But it doesn’t come without a lot of effort on your part. Because let’s face it, managing mental illness is a lot of us doing everything we can to treat our symptoms and follow our treatment plans. The same goes for college. Success is solely dependent on our motivation, our determination, and our efforts. Now all you have to do is combine all of that effort and determination and apply it to managing your mental illness while in college.

So how do I do it you ask? Like I said already, it’s simple. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of focused study time, and a lot of patience. But it is totally doable and I’m going to lay it all out for you.

The Steps for Managing Mental Illness in CollegeUsing a planner to manage your mental illness in college can be a real life-saver. Without a planner, you end up scrambling to get assignments done and this can negatively affect your mental illness.

Buy, Set Up, and Use a Planner

This is the most important step I’m going to give you. I’m a planner-girl by nature, but I know that some of us aren’t. I suggest you buy a planner that at least has a weekly layout option. You’re going to want a spot for every single day so that you can write down all of your class times, assigned readings, assignments, and exams.

Once you buy it, you’re going to do exactly that. Gather your syllabi and write down everything you have a date for. Everything, even days that there is no class for holiday or other reasons.

This is going to eliminate probably at least 30-40% of your stress as a college student. I know that actually reading the textbooks and doing the assignments is stressful, but they’re a lot less stressful when you know that they’re coming up and you can stay ahead.

Related Post: Time Management Tips for the Mom in College

Schedule Specific Study-Time For Yourself

Make sure that you know when you have class when you have work (if you also have a job), and when you have other responsibilities to tend to. Write those in your planner, and then schedule your study time around your responsibilities.

Doing this gives you an actual view of what your days will be like and how much time you’ll have for free time, me time, or whatever other kinds of time you want to have. But you’ll also know when you should be at your desk or at the library for some dedicated study time.

Self-care should be a top priority when managing mental illness in college.

Schedule Self-Care Time

Yep. Schedule it. Consider yourself booked for that time. I would consider giving yourself at least 30 minutes a day for self-care. Whether you use it to entertain a hobby, do your nails, or just soak in the tub is up to you.

But be sure to schedule it as if you’re scheduling your classes and stick to it. To get an A in school you’re going to need an A in self-care. Self-care is important to every single person, but it’s especially important when you are managing mental illness.

Don’t Stop Going for Treatment or Taking any Medications

Treatment is 100% important, no matter what illness you’re battling. We all have to continue our treatment so that we can continue to be our best selves. No matter where you are in life, whether you feel like life couldn’t get any better in that moment, treatment is helpful.

Continuing treatment will allow you a place to turn to in the event that your college and life stressors become too much to handle. The same goes for your medication. If it is recommended that you are on the medication it is best to stay on until a medical professional says otherwise.

These aren’t just treatment options, they’re prevention options as well. I wouldn’t want my mental illness to worsen yet again because I felt I was too okay to be taking my medication or attending my treatment sessions. This is the number one step for managing mental illness.

Finding friends can be a big help to managing mental illness in college.

Find a Study Partner

I know that it can be really tough to make friends in college. But you know what, it’s such a great idea. When those dreaded group projects come around, you’re going to want at least one person who knows you and is ready and willing to partner-up. Plus, they make great companions for when you get to class early and want a quick study recap of last week’s lesson.

This person can also become your accountability partner. We all need one. Mine tends to be my boyfriend, but I’ve made a couple of friends in my classes that wonder where I was if I didn’t show up, but always have a set of notes for me.

Give Yourself a Break

Yep, after all of this study and planning talk, I want a break ha ha. But no, seriously. Let yourself loosen up once in a while. Don’t be afraid to skip a study session if you’re too stressed, anxious, or anything else to really be productive.

There truly is no point to sitting down to study if you already know you aren’t going to be able to function well enough to accomplish anything. Just don’t use this step too often or you’re going to start to fall behind and set yourself up for a failure you could have avoided.

Related Post: 5 Reasons You Need to Take a Mental Health Day

When Managing Mental Illness

I just want you to always remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It takes a lot of courage to let someone know you need help. So don’t be afraid to find some help if managing mental illness becomes too difficult a task for you.

Have any tips that I may not have mentioned? Drop them in the comments below, I’d love to see how you manage mental illness in college.

7 thoughts on “6 Life-Saving Tips for Managing Mental Illness in College”

  • I suffered anxiety a lot back in college. One thing I find really disappointing is the thought of not being able to write “anxiety attack” as a reason for absence. I really didn’t know how to cope up with it. I’m so thankful I met wonderful people from an organization that helped me with it. I’m hoping mental illness stigma will stop really soon. Because it has to. Thank you so much for this post.

  • I experienced battling with mental issues when I was in college. And I admit that it is really hard. The pressure, the demand, the deadlines–all of them became too much for me. One thing I forgot was to set a time for myself. I took it for granted. Hopefully more students would come across this post to be reminded that it is really important to set a “me time” no matter how busy they get. Great post! Thanks for sharing this.

    • Joyce,

      Part of my mission is to be a part of the fall of stigmas surrounding mental illness. I am a huge advocate for those suffering, whether it be depression or anxiety, or even more severe disorders such as schizophrenia. No one should suffer an illness alone, and when the illness is mostly invisible to others it is even harder to fight alone.

      Thank you for dropping by and for the comment as well.


  • Two of these instructions (keeping up your treatments and scheduling self-care time) are good. The others are not as helpful. Planners can help and yet they can cause anxiety and panic when we look at them and feel overwhelmed. Scheduling study time–no offense, but isn’t that an obvious must? Finding a study partner could be a good idea but you should address the issue of whether your study partner should *also* be a person suffering from mental illness. It’s a real issue, I think.

    Thank you for writing this blog post on this very important and difficult issue.

    • Hi Nicholas,

      Thanks for weighing in on this topic. I agree that for some people planners may cause additional stress, but for someone like myself who has moderate anxiety, planning my day is sometimes the only real control I get to feel. Having a schedule to work off of removes a lot of the stress from my life that often causes further anxiety attacks. It may not work for everyone, I don’t argue that fact. But I don’t think that it is bad advice considering I am a mom of two as well as a full-time college student.

      As to your comment regarding scheduling study-time, it may seem dumb to add it onto the list but if I don’t physically schedule it in my planner, I often get overwhelmed to the point where it affects my grades. So I find it to be useful for managing my anxiety while in college full-time. I’m sorry that you see it differently.

      I don’t think, especially as someone who’s been diagnosed with mental illness, that your comment regarding whether or not someone should have a study partner who also has a mental illness is necessarily appropriate. Who is anyone to judge someone with mental illness? Why shouldn’t I be able to study with someone who does not have a mental illness? No offense, but my mental illness doesn’t make me less smart than someone else, and I am just as competent, if not more, than others to complete my work and work well with others. I just don’t see how this is a real issue. Can you please elaborate?


  • I can’t agree more with scheduling self care time! This is what I always tell people who are in college–it isn’t just about working, working, working. We need to choose a set of hours to work and another set of hours to relax. Great post!

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