Mental Health

Back to College Mental Health Toolkit

The start of a new school year can be an exciting time, but it’s not without its potential stressors. For college students, the back-to-school season can take a significant toll on mental health and create conditions that lead some to struggle with addictions.

That’s true for freshmen transitioning to college, students with heavy work or school loads, students with children and families, and those grappling with the anxiety of getting back into the classroom after two tough pandemic years. It’s also the case for students who are living with mental health conditions or substance abuse – which studies have shown are increasing among college students:

  • A 2021 survey of 100,000 students found that 16% of college men and 33% of college women had been diagnosed with anxiety, and 14% of college men and 25% of college women had been diagnosed with depression.
  • A 2022 study of over 350,000 students from more than 370 campuses found that the number of students who met the criteria for one or more mental health problems doubled from 2013 to 2021.
  • A 2021 survey of LBGTQ+ students found that students who identify as LBGTQ+ reported greater rates of mental health concerns than their non-LGBTQ+ peers and higher rates of using alcohol and drugs to cope.

Whatever stressors may exist for you or the student in your life, there are ways to prioritize mental health and manage the types of emotions that can lead to substance misuse. Here are a few strategies to keep in your mental health toolkit this school year.

Find Your Coping Skills

Many college students use drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress and anxiety of school and personal problems, which is why it’s worth exploring healthier coping strategies that you can turn to during the school year. Explore some of these strategies when times get tough:

  • The 54321 Grounding strategy, which involves looking around you and naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Focusing on your senses can help you stay grounded in the present and provide a starting point for self-reflection and problem-solving.
  • Focus on your breathing, which can help you step back from a moment of crisis or anxiety and disconnect from distractions. You can use a guide like this to help with your breathing exercises.
  • Write it out. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, one way to find calm is to take a moment and reflect. Journaling or writing about how you feel can be an effective mindfulness tool.
  • Go for a walk. Research has shown a positive correlation between getting active outdoors and mental health, which is why our facility offers many outdoor activities as part of our residential treatment program. Try getting outside and going for a walk next time you need some calm.
  • Listen to music or talk it out. According to Crisis Text Line, listening to music or talking with friends and family were the top coping skills reported by college students who reached out for help. Try exploring these options when you feel anxious or overwhelmed.

Create a Mental Health Crisis Plan

Our emotions and mental health are fluid, and situations or feelings can arise that we’re not always prepared to handle. By being proactive and creating a mental health crisis plan, you can position yourself to better manage difficult situations if they arise.

Mental health crisis plans can be as simple as listing out a few strategies or resources you can turn to when times are tough, such as:

  • Three things you can do to cope and find calm (such as breathing, listening to music, or using the 54321 Grounding strategy).
  • Three people you can call and talk to when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Three things you do for self-care that make you feel better.

Sometimes, the process of creating a crisis plan is enough to help you remember the tools you can use when times are tough. But you can also make and keep physical copies to consult when emotions or anxiety become overwhelming. The Crisis Text Line has a crisis plan template you can print out for yourself and your friends.

Pick Up Some Mental Health School Supplies

Back-to-school shopping will always include the essential books, pens, and papers, but you can add some mental health school supplies to the list as well. These supplies can vary by person and the types of things they find helpful or calming. Some examples:

  • Music, movies, or a favorite book to help you cope with stress.
  • Notecards for your crisis plan or list of mental health resources.
  • Items/dorm decorations that remind you of home or create a calming environment.
  • Self-care products such as essential oils, bath and beauty supplies, or other items that calm you.
  • A yoga mat, gym membership, or other things you can use to get active, exercise, and move your body in healthy ways.

Explore Available Mental Health Resources

Seeking the help and support of others can be the best way to deal with mental health challenges. Thankfully, there are many resources out there, and it’s a good idea to see what’s available in case you need a mental health check-in during the school year. Some places to look include:

  • Your school. Many colleges and universities have invested more into student mental health services in recent years. If you need help or want to know where to go when you need it, try to see what counseling and mental health services your school offers. Some schools may have mental health providers or special programs and student groups that align with your needs.
  • Your friends and family. Talking to friends and family is a great way to explore your feelings and find solutions with the help of people you trust.
  • Support hotlines. There are many hotlines and services that offer support in the form of telephone counseling, crisis intervention, information about helpful resources. This includes Crisis Text Line, which allows you to text a number or send a message online to talk with a Crisis Counselor, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988), and hotlines specific to students, such as the National Grad Crisis Line.
  • Addiction treatment. If school-related stressors and mental health challenges have been a factor behind substance misuse, you’re not alone. School stress and temptation lead many college students along a difficult path. Seeking treatment from experienced rehabilitation specialists can be the best thing you do for your health, well-being, and future self.

Addiction Treatment Services for College Students

If you or the student in your life are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, our team of caring and experienced specialists at The Lakes Treatment Center wants to help.

Located on beautiful Lake Tulloch, we offer a range of addiction treatment services personalized to each patient’s unique needs. From detox to drug rehab and alcohol rehab, our specialists take a whole-person approach to helping those struggling with substance misuse and co-occurring disorders. To learn more about our recovery center and how we can help you, call (209) 309-3573 or contact us online.


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