42 Surviving the First Year with Mental Illness

Matt Stewart

I choose this subject because it is something that has affected me and those I feel close to personally. I suffer from Depression and Anxiety, but many of my friends have suffered similar conditions. Before I decided on this topic, I had a bad week; my anxiety began to rise, my depression became extremely hard to cope with, and I began to slip into worse grades, which only added to the stress that had brought me there to begin with, making it even harder to escape and normalize myself. Therefore, I am writing on coping mechanisms that will help with mental illness in college life, the type of help I needed and received during that week. 

College life is different to high school life in several key points, but for some, it can still have a common point with it; one that many wish it didn’t. This point is mental illness, including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders. In this section I hope to show positive coping systems that can help in college life and, hopefully, beyond the time you spend here.

First off, let me make an important statement: Everyone is different; what works for one person may do more harm than good to another. Just because your friends are all coping through one method, does not mean it will automatically work for you as well. While I make this distinction, let me offer a second bit of advice, not all coping mechanisms are positive; do not start berating yourself because it is the coping mechanism you want to use, that type of negative mechanism does more psychological harm than it helps to relieve, the downfall to hurting or abusing yourself or those you care about can start as simply as saying that you are useless or that they are. If you find yourself falling down this path, ask for help, you are not alone, and others will help you.

The first coping mechanism is also the one mentioned above; ask for help. You are not alone, ask your friend to stay with you for a bit, talk to a professor, schedule appointments with a therapist, sit outside and talk to someone new; just because you feel alone, does not mean you are. This coping mechanism is one of the most effective for most of the population. Of course, when you need help, it can sometimes feel hard or impossible to reach out, you may find yourself thinking your friends hate you or are only your friends because they want you to feel included; this is not true. When you feel yourself spiraling, don’t be afraid to call on someone to be something you can hold onto; they want to help you just as much as you want them too. In the case of severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, or anything else, don’t be afraid to book an appointment with a therapist. UPIKE has trained professionals for physical ailments, but it also has “Thrive Counseling,” a service which is free to all currently enrolled, do not be afraid to schedule a session through them, they are confidential and can refer you as needed.

The second coping mechanism is one that can be very useful, but only in moderation. This method is venting. Find someone who will listen and let it all out, whatever has been bothering you or adding to this stress. Of course, do not rely entirely on this method, as over time it can lead to strained relationships with those you vent to and can also harm others. Do not be afraid to vent but know when it’s time to take a break. If you vent to a friend, a parent, a professor, or anyone else, let them listen and suggest actions; who knows, they might have the answer to what you were venting about in the first place. With this in mind, also remember that someone else may ask you to let them vent, don’t be afraid to accept, and don’t be afraid to decline if you are having issues as well, it will be better if they vent to someone who can push aside everything else, at least for a few moments, and give clear responses. Two individuals who vent to each other could either work perfectly, allowing both parties to release stress, or it could stress both even more as they both feel they are being ignored for the sake of the other’s issues.

The third coping mechanism comes in two varieties: the first is relaxation, taking a break from everything can help to reduce the stress that’s been adding up, it can also allow time for reflection and thoughts towards what you need to focus on once your relaxation period is over. The second variety is physical or mental stimulation, play a game of basketball with your friends, get online and play a few rounds on a video game you enjoy, or ignore the social interaction altogether and instead read a book, draw, write, play a single-player video game, explore the town, or ask yourself questions that interest you and search for your own answers. While these varieties can be very different, it is also possible to meld into a single one, if basketball relaxes you, go for it; if you just want to message your friends while you play a single-player game, do it; if you want to explore the town with your friends, set it up and enjoy the time together. Just know when it’s time to stop what you are doing and get what needs to be done finished.

The final method of coping I wish to discuss, is the most common variety among those who suffer from mental illnesses; in all honesty, this mechanism is mostly shared by everyone, even those who don’t suffer from disorders and/or illnesses: humor. When stress piles up and it all gets too hard to handle, take a breath and laugh, watch a funny video, look at some memes, ask your friends for some jokes, or just take a second to laugh at the absurdity of the world around you. Search online for stand-up comedians, you can find hundreds easily, and while not all of them are extremely funny, some of the worse ones are hilarious to just listen to clumsy mistakes. Humor is an exceptional coping mechanism that many use every day, and it can help those with mental illness just as much if not more.

With the most useful coping mechanisms listed above, here is a piece of advice; don’t be afraid to skip a day to collect yourself; your grade won’t drop from a B to an F because you miss one day, don’t rely heavily on this, but know that even if it does get to you, you can always take a day off and calm yourself down. Of course, don’t make that day during finals!

Works Cited

Epling, Larry. “Thrive Counseling Center: UPIKE: University of Pikeville – Pikeville, Kentucky.” UPIKE, 27 Mar. 2019, https://www.upike.edu/undergraduate/student-affairs/counseling-center/.

“How Do You Cope?” How Do You Cope? | Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/How_Do_You_Cope.

“Types of Mental Illness.” Healthdirect, Healthdirect Australia, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/types-of-mental-illness.


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Surviving the First Year with Mental Illness Copyright © by Matt Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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