The Jed Foundation
Congratulations, you’ve moved into college!
Living on your own comes with a new set of responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities. College is about learning and growing, broadening your horizons, and making new friends. College can be a transformative experience. Even if you’ve had struggles in the past, you can take care of yourself and do well in college.
As the new academic year begins, how can you be sure that you are ready for the emotional challenges and opportunities of college life? Here are some tips from the JED Foundation to help you take full advantage of what’s available to you for a successful time on campus.
Know how to make the most of your education
Managing a college workload is likely to be stressful, but there are ways to lighten the emotional load while still being a good student. Make the most of the knowledgeable people around you. Use academic advisors and get to know your professors. Attend office hours, even if it’s just to introduce yourself. A good connection with a professor could turn a boring course into a favorite. Find out what is expected of you academically and use support services (e.g., academic advisors or tutors, writing and IT support, multicultural services) on campus. This will help to minimize stress and maximize focus and efficiency.
Know your campus health resources
Taking responsibility for your health is part of living away from home. Find out about health services and counseling services on your campus. Are they close to your residence? Are they open 24/7? Are these services covered by your insurance plan? What should you do if you or a friend has a health problem or emergency? On the first day (or on the day you read this), program the campus safety and health services’ phone numbers into your phone.
Know your health
Develop a strategy for treating any pre-existing mental health conditions ahead of time. Make sure you have a plan to manage these conditions on campus: who do you contact to make appointments? What do you do if you have an emergency? You could also reach out to your primary care doctor at home to ask for advice about how to manage your health.
Know your limits
College exposes you to experiences that you might have never had before. Alcohol and other substances can often be easily found on college campuses. By federal law, alcohol is illegal if you are under 21, as are other drugs. If you do drink or “party,” remember to be as safe and smart as possible. Being intoxicated can be dangerous physically and make you vulnerable to injury or other unwanted behaviors.
Know how to help yourself
At the beginning and throughout your college years, you have to look out for yourself and make sure you have your wits about you. Starting school is exciting, confusing, exhilarating, and frustrating – and can be a little scary. If you or a friend is experiencing anxiety, sadness, or alcohol or other drug related issues that are worrying you, dangerous, or making it difficult to function, do not hesitate to ask for help. Campus professionals are experienced with these issues and know how to help. If you are in an urgent crisis, call 9-1-1 or campus emergency services, use the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741, or call the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Know how to help your friends
College is a new experience for everyone and each person responds to it in different ways. If you have a friend who is having a difficult time emotionally or is using drugs or other substances to cope, talk to them and get them help. If you have a long history and friendship with the person, you’ll probably feel more comfortable talking with your friend about how he or she is feeling. For a more recent acquaintance, like a roommate or classmate, letting a campus professional know about the problem can help ensure that it is handled appropriately.
When approaching a friend who is struggling, be patient and supportive and remember these points when addressing the issue:
- We all go through tough times→ Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Comfort your friend by giving them an example of a time you struggled or needed support from others.
- You can, and will, feel better→ Your friend may feel hopeless or like no one understands them. Assure the person that reaching out to professionals is the first step to feeling better. Mental health problems are treatable and manageable; there is no reason to suffer in silence.
For more tips on how to help a friend, check out
- Help A Friend In Need: A community guide for Facebook and Instagram users to help identify a friend who may be in emotional distress and how to help them.
- Help A Friend: Take a look at ULifeline.org for more information about helping a friend.
According to the “mtvU AP 2009 Economy, College Stress and Mental Health Poll” study we conducted, most students indicated that they would first turn to their friends as a source of support when in emotional distress. In college, friends can become family when you are away from home and take care of each other. Stay active, eat healthy, manage your stress, and speak up when you or a friend is in need.
Editor’s Note: Even though you’re living away from home, there are times that you may want your parents to be able to be involved in your health care. Inquire at the student health and mental health services about how to authorize your campus health providers to talk with your parents.
Student Well-Being: What Some Colleges Are Doing
Contributed by Dr. Nance Roy, Clinical Director, The JED Foundation
College is a time of transition for most students, many of whom will be away from home for the first time, learning how to navigate life on their own, and figuring out how to manage their new-found independence. During the first week of school, most students are busy meeting new people, making new friends, thinking about classes, and not particularly focused on what support services might be available to them on campus. Most of us seek out information and become aware of resources when we need them, but some colleges are doing very creative things to support students as they transition into campus life. Here are some examples of ways that colleges and universities are reaching out to students to support their emotional health and well-being:
- Safe Party Mobile Website: University of California, Davis introduces students to important tips when making choices about substance use and partying via their safe party mobile-friendly website. The site offers engaging, simple, easy-to-read tips on being safe for the party goer and the party thrower, with checklists for both.
- Cirque de-Stress and Syllabi Message: The University of Minnesota hosted three Cirque de-Stress events, multiple half hour circus performances that use metaphors to illustrate the need to balance college life and juggle multiple responsibilities. The event is supplemented with additional stress reduction and mental health resources, as well as post-event surveys to assess effectiveness. The University also recommends that faculty include a specific message on their syllabi about mental health, stress, and how to access resources on campus.
- Gatorade Pong and Pet Assisted Therapy: As a fun alternative to alcohol, Saint Francis University sponsors Gatorade Pong (the antithesis of “beer pong”). Students can also spend time petting and playing with a pet as a way to de-stress and relax.
Whatever the initiative, it is important that students are central to the creation, design, and delivery of any health promotion effort. Students listen to students, so tapping into their many talents will increase the likelihood that your wellness messaging will be heard – and hopefully retained.
*The examples above are sourced from members of the Campus Program.
- How can you help a friend in need? What will you say to a friend who is struggling?
- What helpful resources have you identified and/or used on your campus?
JED is a national nonprofit that exists to reduce the risks of emotional distress, substance abuse, and suicide for our country’s 40 million high school and college students. We work with schools to enhance their mental health and suicide prevention programming and systems; develop expert resources and create powerful partnerships so that students have the support they need, when and how they need it; and educate and empower young adults, families, and the community to take action for the cause. Together, we’re ensuring America’s students grow into thriving adults.
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