Skip to Main Content
Idaho State University home

Staying Mentally Healthy in College

October 11, 2019

America has always been concerned with health. According to a study done by the Cleveland Clinic, 74 percent of Americans are worried about their weight. This concern has spawned dozens of diet variations and exercise regimens to combat health problems and being overweight but in our desire to reduce our waistlines, many forgot or simply didn’t realize, that they needed to take care of their mind as well. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, “ in five adults experiences a mental illness in a given year and one in 25 adults in the US experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits a major life activity…”. So obviously, mental health is an important issue but what’s that got to do with college students? Well, according to Psychology Today, “Studies suggest that between a quarter and a third of students meet criteria for an anxiety or depressive illness during their college experience.” Mental illness is no joke so what should we do? What can we do, as students, to help reduce the likelihood of having a mental illness and keep ourselves mentally healthy? To stay mentally healthy as a student, you need to make sure to take regular mental breaks, take at least one extended vacation in a year, and seek help if you need it.

One of the leading causes of developing a mental illness, is stress and as college students, we know all about that. Overwhelming amounts of stress can lead to increases in anxiety and depression so what’s the solution? Take a time out. Make sure that you take time for yourself regularly and don’t overstretch yourself and what you can do. If you don’t have time for something, say no and please, don’t be afraid to. If school is overwhelming you, take a day and do something for you. This isn’t to say that you should shirk your responsibilities and not do anything but it’s saying to make time for some self-care. Some suggestions for helping reduce stress and anxiety are lighting a candle with a scent such as lavender, taking a warm or hot bath, and laughing. While these seem like very simple remedies, they can help in the long run when combating stress and anxiety. Think of it like when you’re working at your job. You take breaks during your shift and so it should be with your day-to-day life as well. According to Psychology Today, while you’re working (especially if it’s a desk job) “Movement breaks are essential for your physical and emotional health...Breaks can prevent “decision fatigue... breaks restore motivation, especially for long-term goals...Breaks increase productivity and creativity... “Waking rest” helps consolidate memories and improve learning.” Think about your life like it’s a job that you’re working. You’ve been working hard for a long shift and you need a break so you take one and there are obvious benefits to that. The same idea applies to mental health. Sometimes, we’ve just been going so hard and working so hard, that we just need to check-out and take a little breather before going back to the grind. Sometimes you may even need to take a mental health day but those should be planned in advance. According to Fast Company, “It is generally not a good idea to take a mental health day spontaneously. That is, if you wake up in the morning and dread going to work, don’t use that feeling as a reason to call in sick. Stress and anxiety are emotional experiences you have when there is something in your world you are trying to avoid...Instead, take some time to think about what about your work is causing stress. If there is a task that needs to be completed or a meeting that you dread having that day off is not going to relieve the stress much...You’re better off diving into the dreaded task and getting it done.” Calling in sick when you simply want to avoid something at work creates a foundation for you to do that in the future and creates a new response to stress which is to completely avoid it. Stress isn’t completely bad as moderate stress can motivate and inspire us but it’s when it becomes overwhelming that it’s a problem.

Additionally, in order to help maintain a healthy mental state, you should take at least one extended vacation every year. According to CN Traveler, “A study out of Finland’s University of Tampere that analyzed 54 people’s trips found that while longer trips didn't necessarily increase post-vacation bliss, in-the-moment happiness levels peaked on day eight of vacation.” The article continues to say that you should consider time when planning a vacation. For example, it says that for every time zone you travel, you’ll need a day to adjust, so if you’re traveling out of the country, it’s best to plan more time so you can feel your best while on your vacation. However, you should still tailor your trips to what you feel is best. If all you can afford is visiting a nearby city for a few days, then do that. A small vacation is better than no vacation at all. For example, in our area, taking a weekend-long trip to Salt Lake City can be better than not taking a vacation at all. One last thing to consider is taking your trip out of town and the reason for that is that getting out of where you live will really truly allow you to forget your stress because it gets you away from the environment that is causing the stress in the first place. It also depends on the level of fulfillment you experience from a vacation. If you know that you’ll get the most fulfillment from a short vacation, do it. Do what works best for you.

Well, what should you do if you suspect you already need help? First, seek professional help. You can get referrals from your primary care doctor though it’s good to do your own research so you have a few names to compare before making your decision But how do you know what kind of professional you should go to? Mental Health America provides a comprehensive list that breaks down what type of doctor specializes in what though if you don’t know what kind of specialist you should see, your doctor should be able to give you an idea.The list  is as follows:

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses. Like other doctors, psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medication.

Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist: A medical doctor specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of emotional and behavioral problems in children.

Psychologist: A professional with a doctoral degree in psychology, two years of supervised professional experience, including a year-long internship from an approved internship and is trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy.

Clinical Social Worker: A counselor with a master’s degree in social work trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group counseling.

Licensed Professional Counselor: A counselor with a master’s degree in psychology, counseling or a related field, trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor: A counselor with specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.

Marital and Family Therapist: A professional with a master’s degree, with special education and training in marital and family therapy trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling

Mental Health Counselor: A counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.

Pastoral Counselor: A member of clergy with training in clinical pastoral education trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.

A doctor will generally know what kind of specialist you should see but doing your own research can also help you make a better informed decision. Your health is of utmost importance and you should seek the best care possible because it is a very serious matter, no matter the diagnosis that you are dealing with. Mental illness is something that can very negatively affect your life and though the stigma around it is starting to disappear, it can still be very difficult for people to seek help. At the end of the day, it is in your best interest to find and get help if you believe that you have a mental illness or any of your physicians believe that you might. Idaho State University also has many resources to help you cope with stress, grief, and mental illness. The Counseling and Testing Services (CATS) provide counseling services free of charge.The services they offer are listed below.

  • Group counseling, biofeedback training, short-term goal-oriented individual counseling, or couples counseling to currently enrolled ISU students
  • Crisis intervention during our regular business hours
  • Outreach and prevention programs
  • Consultation services for faculty, staff, families and friends of students
  • Practicum and internship training for masters level counseling students and doctoral level clinical psychology students

There are certain services they don’t provide and those can be found on their website at: They even have resources for simple things like getting better sleep. Students and those who maintain high pressure lifestyles can overwork themselves but with the right steps, you can help keep yourself healthy and happy and reduce the risk of a mental illness. Your health is the most important thing and it should be made a priority. If you’d like to learn more, the College of Technology is hosting a Mental Health Resource Fair at 777 Memorial Drive from 10AM to 4PM on Saturday, Oct. 12 and they’ll be hosting various presentations throughout the day about different topics such as PTSD, Suicide Prevention, Crisis Prevention, and others.