Promoting Student Mental HealthExpert Advice and School Resources for
Understanding Disorders and Getting Help
Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD, is a physician who specializes in cardiology and molecular biology. He developed the Personal Breakthrough and Empowerment program that combines his medical expertise with NLP, Time Line Therapy™, and clinical hypnotherapy. He is also the author of The Fear & Anxiety Solution.
Blake LeVine is a life coach and author with a master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University. As a survivor of bipolar disorder who has been healthy for over 17 years, he knows the importance of managing mental illness and uses his experiences to help clients deal with depression, addictions, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, career problems, and family issues. He is the author of Beating Bipolar: How One Therapist Tackled His Illness . . . and How What He Learned Could Help You!
Being a student can be stressful enough, but trying to juggle schoolwork and other responsibilities while experiencing mental illness can make it that much harder. But students can work through many challenges and still perform well in school. This comprehensive guide discusses and details a number of mental health issues, including information on how they impact academic performance and where to find help.
Mental Health and Academic Performance
The American College Health Association (ACHA) reports that any number of factors — chronic pain, allergies, gaming, excessive Internet use, relationship problems, gambling — can affect academic performance. However, psychiatrically or medically diagnosed challenges such as stress, anxiety and depression generally have a greater impact, and may require more a thoughtful approach to guidance or treatment. These conditions may hinder students from excelling on tests, completing assignments or even making it to class. In extreme cases, students may even drop out of school.
The following guide dives into more specific information about a variety of common mental health challenges, and focuses on where and how college students — or those thinking about a college education — can turn for support.
Stress and Anxiety
Whether in high school and concerned about college admission or in college already and struggling to adjust, it’s normal for students to feel stress and anxiety from time to time. However, when these feelings become pervasive, they can have a devastating effect on a student’s academic performance.
For example, the ACHA studied over 97,000 college students and found that stress and anxiety hinder academic success more than any other non-academic factors. In addition to hurting concentration, both can lead initially to racing thoughts, poor judgment and impaired memory. On the emotional spectrum, depression, agitation, and the inability to relax can result, leading to procrastination or, for some students, self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Anxiety and stress may also manifest themselves physically, causing students to suffer from nausea, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and chest pains.
Where to Get Help…
- 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety
- 37 Stress Management Tips
- 5 Quick Tips to Reduce Stress and Stop Anxiety
- Coping With Anxiety
- Coping With Stress and Anxiety
- How to Reduce Stress: 10 Relaxation Techniques
- How to Stop Worrying
- Stress And Anxiety: Causes & Management
- Stress Management
- Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress
- Therapists Spill: The Best Ways to Shrink Stress & Anxiety
- Understanding and Managing Anxiety
Recognizing that being around animals can help reduce stress and anxiety, some high schools allow students to spend time with a therapy dog. As a result, students who are overwhelmed by the pressures of school can feel some comfort.Counseling centers.
College campuses generally have counseling centers that allow students to speak to a therapist about their problems with stress and anxiety. If there isn’t a specific counseling center on campus, students may still be able to receive therapy at their school’s health care center.Nap hall.
A nap is a great way to re-energize and improve cognitive function. In some high schools, students are allowed to use their study hall time to take a nap, allowing them to recharge in the middle of a busy day.Psychology department.
Students may also be able to find support through the psychology department at their school. In some cases, graduate students who are interested in becoming therapists will provide counseling under the supervision of the department.Stress and anxiety peer groups.
Many schools have groups that allow students to get together with their peers and discuss their concerns. For example, some high schools have groups where students talk about body issues and other topics that affect their self-esteem. Similarly, many colleges have affiliate groups of the BACCHUS Network — an organization that provides peer support for students tackling mental health challenges.
Depression is extremely debilitating and can prevent people from engaging in many day-to-day activities, including completing schoolwork. People who suffer from depression may display a number of symptoms, such as poor concentration, changes in sleep and eating habits, low energy and mood and panic attacks. As a result, when depression manifests, it can be difficult for students to get motivated enough to study for tests, work on assignments or even attend classes.
Depression can have a serious negative impact on students’ grades. A study conducted at Western Michigan University found that depressed students’ overall grade point average dropped half a letter grade after developing the condition. Similarly, researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health discovered that students suffering from depression were twice as likely to drop out of school than their non-depressed counterparts.
In pre-college students, depression interferes with their ability to do well as they progress in school each year. If the condition is not diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, students may have a harder time academically as they move up from one grade level to the next.
Where to Get Help…
- ADAA.org: Depression
- Bipolar Online
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Depression Health Center
- Depression Symptoms & Warning Signs
- Depression (major depressive disorder)
- KidsHealth.org: Depression
- Mental Health Conditions: Depression
- PsychCentral: Depression
- Understanding Depression
- What Is Depression?
Many college counseling centers or psychology departments have developed support groups so students can discuss their depression with each other as a professional counselor facilitates. Also, students may be able to locate peer groups through their student union.LEADS:
Linking Education and Awareness for Depression and Suicide (LEADS) is a classroom program designed to provide information about depression to pre-college students and prevent suicides. Some schools have used this program to educate students on the risk factors related to depression and suicide and provide them with the skills needed to recognize and overcome the illness.On-campus counseling.
Colleges and universities generally give students access to mental health care for free through a specific counseling center or the general health center. Students may also be able to receive help through their school’s psychology department.Regular check-ins.
Some schools provide regular check-ins for students who are suffering from depression, which allows teachers, nurses, or guidance counselors to find out how they’re coping with problems and pressures. This gives students a strong support system that helps them handle their illness and succeed in school.Religious leaders.
College students often find comfort from a group where they can practice their faith, and it can be a place to get counseling in conjunction with medical treatment for depression. Students can check with their school’s chaplain or religious leaders to find out if spiritual counseling is available.
Drug Abuse and Alcoholism
Experimenting with alcohol and drugs is often a normal part of the older student experience. And though it may be discussed in relation to non-academic consequences — such as automobile accidents, violence and unprotected sex — it can also impact students’ behavior in the classroom. Among pre-college students, substance abuse can cause neurological damage that directly influences academic performance, such as harm to verbal skills and memory. As a result, these students may perform poorly in their middle school or high school classes, leading to lower grades and overall lack of motivation.
In college, alcohol and drug abuse is similarly correlated with poor grades on papers and exams — as well as missed classes and falling behind on coursework. In fact, a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Task Force on College Drinking found that 25 percent of students linked their poor academic performance to alcohol use. The organization also found there was a direct relationship between the number of drinks students consumed weekly and their grades. For example, students who earned Ds and Fs in school would consume approximately ten drinks per week, while those earning A’s had about four.
Where to Get Help…
- AACAP: Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Affects Everyone in the Family
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- College Drinking
- GoodTherapy.org: Drug and Alcohol Addiction
- Illegal Drug Use and Addiction Directory
- ProjectKnow.org: Alcohol & Drugs
- Treatment of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Many colleges offer screenings to students in order to determine if they’re at risk of developing alcoholism. Administered at the campus health center, these screenings help identify risk factors for addiction and treatment options if a student has a drinking problem.Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Peer Groups.
Some campuses have twelve-step programs for students working on their sobriety. Also, schools without twelve-step programs may have peer support groups that include mentoring from students who have overcome addiction and alcohol-free social activities.Recovery centers.
Some college campuses have special housing for students in recovery. This allows them to get support from people who understand what they’re going through, and ensures that they don’t have to worry about exposure to drugs and alcohol in their dormitory.Recovery schools.
Recovery high schools are alternative public schools that allow students struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to learn in an environment conducive to their recovery. In addition to schoolwork, these institutions provide mental health and addiction counseling.Substance abuse prevention programs.
Some schools provide programs to educate teens on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, these programs — which may be part of a health class or a voluntary after school program — teach students how to resist peer pressure, manage stress, and develop drug resistance and social problem solving skills.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological condition that causes impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention. This disorder can result in a number of behaviors that can hurt academic performance, including daydreaming in class, refusing to listen to others, fidgeting, constant talking and getting bored easily. In addition, these students may make careless mistakes because of their impulsive nature or have trouble remembering when assignments are due. Compared to students without ADHD, students who live with the disorder are more likely to receive failing grades and lower grade point averages.
ADHD is frequently associated with other mental health issues, which can further contribute to challenges in school. Some students with ADHD also suffer from depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.
Where to Get Help…
- ADD & ADHD Health Center
- ADHD Awareness Month
- Adult ADD/ADHD
- An Introduction to ADHD in Adults
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children
- Facts About ADHD
- National Resource Center on ADHD
- Understanding ADHD
- What Is ADHD?
- What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Colleges may offer evaluations to students who suspect they have ADHD. This entails a comprehensive interview, psychological testing, and a treatment plan if a diagnosis is made.ADHD peer groups.
Colleges may have ADHD support groups that are designed to help students support each other and keep each other accountable. The students in these peer groups check in with each other on a regular basis to ensure that their school work is always getting done.Edge ADHD coaching.
The Edge Foundation—an organization that helps students with ADHD reach their academic potential—works with school districts in order to provide coaching to those with the disorder. In conjunction with students’ teachers, guidance counselors, and physicians, coaches help them learn the skills they need to excel in school.Skills workshops.
Another resource that students with ADHD may have available to them through their school is skills training. Workshops can teach these students how to manage their time successfully, avoid procrastination, and study in the most efficient ways.Special accommodations.
Many colleges give students with ADHD accommodations that help them succeed academically. This may include additional time to take examinations, class note-takers, or tutoring services.
Eating disorders are not just a food issue. Students with anorexia and bulimia experience a number of physical side effects — such as headaches, nausea and fatigue — that can make it more difficult to succeed in the classroom. In addition, these disorders can impair cognitive function and development in teenagers, which also can have long-lasting consequences. Similarly, eating disorders can lead to depression and anxiety, which impede students’ motivation to do coursework and cause behavioral problems that make it difficult to learn.
Where to Get Help…
- Anad.org: General Information
- APA.org: Eating Disorders
- Bulimia Recovery
- Eating Disorders (Including Anorexia and Bulimia)
- Eating Disorders and Minorities
- HelpGuide.org: Eating Disorders
- Mayo Clinic: Eating Disorders
- Psychiatry.org: Eating Disorders
- Signs of Eating Disorders: Types and Symptoms
- Teens & Eating Disorders
- What are Eating Disorders?
Students with eating disorders may be able to speak to a counselor on campus that has specific experience treating bulimia and anorexia. This also allows them to address the mental health problems associated with eating disorders, such as depression and anxiety.Eating disorders peer groups.
Therapy groups for students with eating disorders may be organized through the campus counseling center. There may also be peer advisors available to discuss students’ concerns about eating disorders and offer advice on how to get help.Eating disorder screenings.
Some campus health centers offer screenings that are designed to identify eating disorders and help students get treatment after a diagnosis.Nutrition counseling.
Campus health centers may have nutritionists on staff that specialize in helping patients with eating disorders. Depending on the school, students may be able to meet with a nutritionist on a weekly or monthly basis in order to regularly get information on healthy eating habits.Prevention programs.
During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, college campuses offer education programs that address anorexia and bulimia, body image, and how students can get help if they have disordered eating.
Students with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may have obsessive thoughts and fears, and feel compelled to perform compulsive rituals throughout the day. This can make school a daunting proposition because even though these students may want to pay attention in class and do their homework, disordered thinking can make it difficult to focus. Consequently, this can lead to poor performance on tests, difficulty understanding course material and an inability to complete homework. Even if students are motivated to do well, if the disorder is left untreated, it can eventually cause their grades to suffer.
Where to Get Help…
- 10 Signs You May Have OCD
- ADAA.org: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Debunking the myths of OCD
- HelpGuide.org: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- IOCDF.org: About OCD
- Mayo Clinic: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Stanford: About OCD
- Treatment for OCD and Related Conditions
- What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
When students with OCD receive cognitive behavioral therapy, their academic performance improves exponentially. CBT may be available at college counseling or health centers, and if not, the school professionals can make a recommendation about how students can get help.Disability resource center.
Campus disability resource centers provide services for students with OCD to help them thrive in their courses. Services may include test accommodations and note-taking assistance.Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
Public school students with OCD may be eligible to receive individualized education services from their school district. IEPs use the expertise of medical professionals and teachers to provide services that help students succeed in school, such as counseling, speech therapy, and instructional accommodations like extra time for assignments.OCD Peer Groups.
Many schools have OCD support groups that are provided by therapists at the campus counseling center. Similarly, students with the disorder may be able to join campus peer groups that address specific issues related to OCD, such as hoarding, or the skills they need to improve their academic performance — including time management and study skills.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur when someone experiences a traumatic stressor in their life. While people often think of PTSD as something that only affects veterans coping with their experiences on the battlefield, the condition can be caused by a number of traumatic experiences — such as serious accidents, domestic abuse, assaults or non-violent crime. In addition, PTSD can also be caused by witnessing a traumatic event.
PTSD can have serious effects on the brain that impair memory and make it difficult for students to do well in school. In addition, these students may also experience panic attacks and a lack of motivation or concentration, as well as disordered sleeping and eating patterns. All of these symptoms make it difficult for students to pay attention in class and keep up with their assignments, potentially leading to poor grades.
Where to Get Help…
- Mayo Clinic: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Nami.org: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Nebraska.gov: What is PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder)?
- Psychiatry.org: PTSD
- PTSD: National Center for PTSD
- What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- Screening for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Veteran students have needs that many of their counterparts don’t have to worry about, such as applying for government benefits. In addition to receiving counseling for PTSD, a college’s veterans center may offer additional support to help these students adjust to civilian life.Classroom, assignment, and examination accommodations.
Students with PTSD may be able to get special accommodations to help them perform well on assignments and tests, as well as get the most out of their time in the classroom. Accommodations may include a tape recorder to document lectures, individually proctored examinations, and advance notice of upcoming assignments.Counseling center.
The campus counseling center may have professionals with experience treating patients suffering from PTSD. In addition, students may be able to receive counseling for the problems related to PTSD, such as alcohol and drug abuse.PTSD Peer Groups.
Led by mental health professionals on campus, students with PTSD may be able to join peer groups where they talk about what triggered their condition and how they’re coping with school and other responsibilities. In addition, there may be groups to address the specific experiences that lead to PTSD, such as groups for crime and abuse victims. Also, veterans on campus may have access to peer groups where they can discuss their military experiences and transition into life at college.
Expert Interviewwith Friedemann Schaub
What are the most common triggers for stress and anxiety among pre-college students?
Especially in high school, there’s thinking about the SATs and basically preparing for college. That is incredibly stressful because not only do they have to look ahead, they may not be able to deal with what’s happening right in the moment. It’s a time where you get more into a grown-up mindset, but then you’re bombarded with challenges other generations didn’t have to deal with, such as the challenges of having to fit in on social media. They have to find out what everyone else is doing on social media, and they may compare themselves to their friends, feeling like other people’s lives are so much better than their own.
What are the most common triggers for stress and anxiety among college students?
There are very interesting challenges. One of them is that leaving high school, their home, and their parents really brings up this feeling of being lost, where you’re thrown out into the world. So what they often do is look as fast as possible for a group of people to belong, and there’s an enormous pressure around that. There’s a fear of not having someone close, and not having someone they can feel connected to. What I notice is that there’s almost a frenzy to find that kind of close friendship as fast as possible, and there’s not a lot of discernment around who students really like to hang out with. They are trying so hard to fit in that they’re suppressing themselves and who they really are, even though college is supposed to be the time when you are exploring yourself and finding out what your preferences and dislikes are.
Another thing I think college students are suffering with are their parents, especially parents who are overly concerned and overly involved. That umbilical cord seems to stretch across thousands of miles and sometimes it’s hard for college students to really grow up and have their own experiences because there’s constant texting going on with the parents and calling every day. It’s almost like letting go and having your own life these days is a little bit harder because the parents are more involved, and unfortunately, more smothering and overprotective than they used to be.
What can students do to get through their anxiety and stress?
With younger students, I think it’s important to honor where they are in their development. For example, if a 15-year-old girl really isn’t into dating and sex, then being able to actually say no and have the courage to stand up for herself is important. Being able to have boundaries is really important—and that requires courage, but it’s also a lesson for life because you learn that how you feel is more important than what other people are thinking about you.
For college students, it’s important to learn positive patterns that create stability and a good balance in their life. So, rather than being in a frenzy to join a fraternity or sorority and find friends, it’s better to really see college as a time to explore, a time to find out what works for you. There are studies that show when you’re developing as a college student, the patterns that help you stay in a positive mindset when you’re anxious—such as going for a run, meditating, or journaling—will actually stick with you for the rest of your life. And it’s important to realize that when you are choosing a group of friends, you’re usually not open to anybody else anymore—and you’re kind of missing out on many opportunities. For the first year, try not to decide who you’re going to be or who you’re going to hang out with, but be open to explore.
Having boundaries with your parents and just cutting a little bit of the umbilical cord is also important. If you have problems, don’t run and call your parents, try and figure out your own strategies to deal with stress or challenges because this way, you will gain confidence. Otherwise, you’re always going to feel dependency.
If a student is having anxiety, what is the first step they can take toward getting better?
I think when you’re anxious, going to the college counselor and talking about it is a good start. But, I also think it’s important not to feel like you have to take medication so you don’t feel the anxiety anymore. I think it’s really crucial that students know that they may be anxious because they’re confused, or because they don’t know who they are, or because some negative beliefs of the past are coming up—such as the fear of not fitting in or being good enough. There are many ways that therapy can help you overcome this. Sometimes taking medication will make you feel like there’s something wrong with you and you have to fix it—and that’s exactly the wrong message.
Students have more pressure in their lives than ever before—whether it’s from worrying about bullying in high school or finding employment after graduating from college—and it shows in their mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 11 percent of students develop depression before they turn 18. And when they go to college, they may not fare any better. In fact, depression and anxiety are the most common disorders that college students seek treatment for at their campus health clinics, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. Also, statistics from the American College Health Association show that one in six college students have been treated for anxiety.
Proactive Wellness and Students: General Techniques
Treatment from medical professionals is imperative for students living with mental illnesses. Therapy, and in some cases, medications, can go a long way toward helping these students feel better and improve every aspect of their lives — including in the classroom. However, students may be able to do a number of things on their own to augment their treatment. Before providing online resources for students, it’s important to note the dangers of self-diagnosis and self-treatment. Anyone experiencing (or who think they may be experiencing) a mental issue should seek professional help before seeking help on his or her own.
Pulling all-nighters is common among college students, but it can actually do more harm than good. In fact, long-term sleep deprivation is linked to a decrease in grade point average. And for students being treated for conditions like depression, ADHD, anxiety and PTSD, sleep deprivation can exacerbate their challenges. To combat this, students should make it a priority to adopt healthy sleep habits, such as going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, getting around eight hours of sleep each night, and taking naps to make up for lost sleep.
Diet can affect a student’s memory, ability to learn and stress levels. For those being treated for depression and anxiety with medication, a healthy diet is also important because weight gain may be a side effect. Some healthy eating habits that these students can adopt include eating breakfast every day, keeping a regular meal schedule, and avoiding meals late at night. When choosing foods, it’s important to limit junk food and meals from fast food restaurants, eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and avoid drinks filled sugar and caffeine.
For those suffering from mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression, exercise can be an extremely important part of their recovery because it releases endorphins in the body that improve mood and contribute to feeling calm. In addition, exercise helps to improve energy levels, sleep, memory, and the ability to focus on tasks — all of which can contribute to better grades. Also, exercise helps students who need to lose weight meet their goals, which raises their self-esteem and makes them feel a sense of accomplishment.
Meditation helps people slow down their mind, which is beneficial to those who have problems with concentration. In addition, meditation is associated with decreased stress, better sleep patterns, and a more positive mood. Similarly, other relaxation exercises like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided visualizations can help to reduce stress and increase clarity.
Keeping up with hobbies, such as artistic endeavors like playing an instrument, painting, and writing, can help students feel good about themselves and express their feelings in an enjoyable way. Not only do hobbies make people feel accomplished, these activities also activate areas of the brain associated with happiness. The more these students engage in creative hobbies, the more they can keep feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression at bay.
People with mental health challenges often isolate themselves from other people because they believe they won’t be accepted or understood. But maintaining friendships and connecting with peers is actually what they need to feel better about themselves. By talking to peers, these students can get the support they need when they’re having a bad day, as well as helpful advice on how to handle different problems in their lives.
Students are bombarded with technology on a constant basis, and although many technologies can be helpful, it is also important to make an effort to unplug. For example, frequent computer and Internet use is associated with feelings of stress and depression, so having downtime from technology is imperative for people with mental disorders. In addition, unplugging can actually reset the brain, improving memory and the ability to learn new information.
Students who are able to have pets can reap a number of mental and emotional benefits from regular contact with their animals. Animals can be a source of affection that makes people feel better about themselves and reduces loneliness. In addition, pet owners feel needed and develop routines around the care of their animals, which can help them feel emotionally stable.
In many cases, the only reading students have time for is related to school. However, reading for pleasure can help them emotionally, as well as academically. On an academic level, reading can improve vocabulary, concentration, and memory. Mentally, reading can help reduce stress, while giving students interesting things to talk about—which can be an important part of building connections with others and increasing self-esteem.
Students with mental health problems may not feel like there’s much in their lives to laugh about, but laughter can actually help them reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Also, laughter affects the brain in ways that enhance academic performance—such as increasing the ability to retain information and pay attention.
Feelings of low self-esteem and hopelessness can be a big part of having mental illness. Volunteering for a cause they believe in can help these students feel good about themselves as they help other people—as well as connect with peers who share the same interests. This is a great way for these students to improve their mood and develop a sense of purpose.
Journaling can help people process what’s going on in their lives. For students with mental challenges, this can be especially helpful because they get their frustrations out of their system in between therapy appointments, or bare the innermost thoughts they don’t feel comfortable talking about. Oftentimes, this is enough to help them feel better and manage difficult emotions.
Promoting Mental Health: There’s an App for That
While not a substitute for treatment with a mental health professional, a handful of apps put helpful techniques at students’ fingertips. Check out these iPhone and Android apps that focus on breathing, calmness, optimism and other tactics to keep anxiety and stress low and health and wellness high.
When anxiety is running high, students can use this app to stop the thoughts contributing to their feelings.
Helps to reduce stress and anxiety through a series of breathing exercises.
This app provides helpful relaxation tips that users can learn when they’re feeling stress and anxiety.
Designed specifically for students, this app provides users with problem-solving techniques to help them deal with stress.
People with mental health conditions can use this app to track their moods and behavioral patterns, allowing them to identify triggers for stress, anxiety, and depression. Based on this information, they are given strategies on how to cope with their feelings and avoid triggers.
Expert Interviewwith Student Blake LeVine
What kind of mental health issues did you have as a student?
I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, and for two years I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. It was very tough. I missed a lot of school and had trouble with friendships, and there was also a lot of pressure on my family to find the right treatments to help me rebuild my life. It was a very hard couple of years. I’ve been stable for about 20 years, but it took me a long time to put my life back together.
When did the disorder start to manifest?
It started to manifest in my teens. I would say around 15 or 16 I had the first signs of it. I had been doing well in my life and in high school I was very high achieving. Then at about 16, things started to unravel. I had my first manic episode then that required a hospitalization. I couldn’t sleep. I was very nervous about my health; I thought I was dying and ended up going to the emergency room. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with bipolar and it would take a solid two years to find the right treatment because medicine and therapy would go well, but I’d fall back into an incident again.
Did you have a hard time functioning academically?
Before all of this happened, I was in advanced classes and I really did well in school. After it happened, it was much harder to attend school. For a short time I had to go to a special school for kids with special needs, so it went from excelling in school to having to re-integrate into school again.
How did it affect you socially?
Before I was always very confident and had a lot of friends. After I really felt knocked down. I was embarrassed that other kids would make fun of me, or if I wanted to date, people wouldn’t want to date me because of the illness. I became very insecure for a while, and part of what I needed to do in therapy was find the courage to make friends again, potentially start to date, and get ready to be an adult.
What words of encouragement would you give to students struggling with mental illness?
When I was sick, I felt so alone and hopeless, so I would tell a young person going through it that there are so many people experiencing these issues. If you take the right steps, you can have a full life. I’m happily married, I have two children, I’ve been educated all over the world, I’ve written six books. If I had known when I was so sick that any of that would have happened, it would have kept me a lot more positive. I really believe that if you take care of your mental health, you can do anything you set out to do in life—but the key thing is to accept what you’re facing and get the help. I love that all the pain I went through is helping inspire people, and I never would have guessed that when I was so young and feeling like these problems were so hard.
Additional Resources for Students and Parents
Students with mental health conditions do not have to suffer in silence. There are a number of resources available where they can get information on how to cope with their condition, get assistance, and understand what they’re experiencing. The following are some resources that can help.
Includes information on how to manage anxiety and depression and find a therapist, as well as educational materials on a number of different mental health conditions.
The American Psychological Association’s website includes information on the relationship between mental health and school performance, tips on emotional wellness, and where to find help.
This site has educational videos about mental health topics, a blog, and a resource directory.
Includes information on how children and adults are affected by the disorder, the disorders that people with ADHD may also develop, and behavioral and social skills that can help those with ADHD.
Has information about therapy, medications, and support groups.
Has a comprehensive list of therapists, treatment centers, and programs for people with OCD.
The companion site for the popular magazine includes blogs written by mental health experts and extensive information on disorders. In addition, readers can search for a therapist.
This nonprofit organization’s website has discussion groups, tips for how to live a healthy lifestyle with a mental illness, and facts about different disorders.
The association’s site has a discussion group, news about the disorder, a blog, and a list of therapists and support groups.
Has information about alcohol and drugs that can be used by parents and students.
This site has resources describing how mental disorders affect adolescents and adults, as well as information on where to find treatment and how it is conducted.
The organization’s site includes information on the risks factors associated with PTSD, symptoms of the disorder, where to find treatment, and myths about living with PTSD.
Includes information on different kinds of addiction, treatment options, and where to get help.