College can be one of the most exciting and rewarding times in an individual’s life, opening the door to pursue new knowledge, prepare for a future career and experience life in a new way. It can also be a very challenging time for students, especially those who may be at risk of developing a mental illness or have already been diagnosed with mental illness.
The onset of depressive illnesses including bipolar disorder tends to peak between the ages of 15 and 24 – just as academic pressures are mounting and students are adjusting emotionally to complex life changes. The challenges of college – leaving home for the first time, learning to live independently, forming new relationships, sleeping irregularly, and being confronted with greater access to alcohol and drugs – can be overwhelming for many students.
Recognizing the signs
This section of the website provides information about how bipolar disorder can impact college students, and tips for making the most of the collegiate experience when battling bipolar disorder. It’s important for everyone – new students, returning students, faculty, staff and families – to learn to identify the signs of depression. Visit Learn About Your Diagnosis to learn more about the symptoms of depression in young people and adults, and Know Your Treatment Options for information about the many options available for treating bipolar disorder.
How common are depressive illnesses on campus?
The number of college students diagnosed with depression or bipolar illness has increased steadily in recent years. But sadly, these illnesses often remain hidden and untreated. Students may attempt to ignore or hide their symptoms because of social or academic pressures, and faculty and staff may not recognize the warning signs. But the good news is that depressive illnesses can be effectively diagnosed and treated, and treatment tends to be most effective when started in young adulthood.
Advice for College Students
Although the path is not easy, with a sound treatment plan, a good support system and a commitment to keeping stress in check and taking the necessary steps to maintain good overall health, students can succeed in college and manage their bipolar disorder at the same time. The following tips form the basis of a successful strategy to do just that. The links below will lead you to more information about these specific topics found elsewhere on this website:
- If you suspect you may be suffering from bipolar disorder but have not yet been diagnosed, see a medical professional right away. Wondering how to start the conversation? Click here for tips on talking with a healthcare professional.
- Remember that bipolar disease is a treatable illness. In addition to commonly-employed tools like psychotherapy and medication, taking charge of your own self care is a key component in any successful treatment plan.
- Develop a dependable support system of friends, family and campus professionals.
- Try to establish and maintain consistent sleep habits, avoiding disruptions such as all-night study sessions.
- Get plenty of regular exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs.
- Keep stress in check. Practice time management skills, seek academic help when needed, and don’t hesitate to seek guidance for roommate, relationship or financial concerns.
- Adjust your expectations. Recognize that attending college while managing bipolar disorder may mean it takes you longer to fulfill your academic requirements.
- If you have been receiving treatment back home, make it a priority to make referral arrangements with a healthcare provider and pharmacy near campus before school starts.