So Now What? Mental Health and Making the Transition from High School to College

Jazmin Kay

Jazmin Kay
Mental Health Advocate, JED Foundation
Student, George Washington University

Like many students, I have dreamed about this week for years.

Packing up my car to the brim, wrapping up my childhood experiences into a scrappy cardboard box. Feeling a mixture of ecstasy and sadness as I smoosh the imprint of my face into the backseat window, I say goodbye to my hometown, and proceed to the next chapter of my life. But leaving for freshman year of college—contrary to what my movie-convinced middle school self believed—is not that “picture perfect.”

While I’ve often received the advice to “dive-in!” when it comes to new endeavors, there are many layers to consider when making the transition to college and avoiding feeling overwhelmed.

One difference in college, which is often overlooked but so important to consider, is that you now have the task of taking care of the emotional well-being of yourself and those around you.

Here are some ways to be prepared, promote healthy campus-wide mental health standards, and make the leap from high school to college as seamless as possible:

Help remove shame, secrecy, and prejudice
Too often, conversations around mental health are deemed as “taboo” or “too sensitive.” As fellow students, friends, family, educators, and allies, it is important to foster a dialogue about mental health that is inclusive and open for active participation by everyone. Speak up and let people know that mental health matters to you.

Know that you’re not alone
You are not alone. News flash: it is totally normal to feel overwhelmed in college. In fact, you would be in the minority if you didn’t feel stressed out once in a while.

A study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that 80 percent of college students say that they frequently or sometimes experience daily stress.

Students our age deal with so many issues–such as identity, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, addiction, and suicide–it’s no surprise that recent studies have similarly shown that college students’ mental health struggles are at the highest rate in decades.

With this being said, it is abundantly clear that encounters with emotional health conditions on college campuses are far from uncommon. Yet students often experience these difficulties in silence.

One of the best ways to spread awareness for issues concerning mental health is by sharing your story or helping to bolster the stories of others. Whether it is through social media, writing, art, video, or music—letting others into your experience is one of the most authentic ways to spread awareness and help others.

For some great examples of young people and celebrities sharing their personal experiences, check out Half Of Us.

Stay informed
While staying informed about mental health and available resources is often easier said than done, organizations such as the JED Foundation are making a huge difference in improving the accessibility of information and tools to stay up to date. These include resources like:

  • ULifeline, an anonymous, confidential, online resource center where college students can be comfortable searching for the information they need and want regarding emotional health
  • Love is Louder, a movement that helps individuals, communities, and schools build resiliency, create connectedness and promote acceptance
  • Transition Year, a website aimed at helping to ensure a smooth, healthy transition into college life.

Reach out for help
Last but certainly not least, make sure you and your friends feel comfortable to reach out and get guidance or professional help. Between academics, work, and social schedules when starting college, you’ll likely feel all sorts of pressure, so it’s imperative to know that there are people and resources there to support you, no matter what your doubts or issues may be. Whether it is your friends, family, professors, academic advisors, or campus health professionals— someone will be there to help and support you.

So, now what?
Maybe my transition to college will be exactly how I envisioned it, like some cheesy coming-of-age romantic comedy, or maybe it won’t be. Either way, I am happy to accept my journey and excited to leave for college not only prepared, but comfortable going into the process knowing the multitude of steps I can take to help myself and those around me feel better than ever.

Your Turn

  • What lessons did you learn about taking care of your mental health when you started at college?
  • In what ways does/did your college offer mental health support to students? What do/did you find helpful?


Jazmin Kay is a freshman at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. studying Political Science. Originally from New York, Jazmin’s writing, personal essays, and interviews have been published on The Huffington Post, where she is a HuffPost Teen blogger, and in various other outlets she writes for including Levo League and Seventeen Magazine. Jazmin currently serves as Youth Director at the women’s non-profit organization and as a Voting Rights and Civic Engagement reporter for Generation Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jazminlkay.

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