In the last weeks of summer before my freshman year of college, I was more excited for school than I ever had been before. I knew that I had chosen the right place for me, and I was ready to start a new portion of my life, one in which I could finally discover whether or not I am capable of being independent while simultaneously dealing with a mental illness in college.

However, this came along with a lot of anxiety. I, as well as my family members, worried that my mental illness would prevent me from getting the most out of my college experience or even from being able to handle the experience itself.

Now, in my spring semester of my first year of college, I find myself thinking less and less about my faults and more about how much I've grown. I love my school - the atmosphere, the people, the opportunities - and I want others dealing with mental illnesses in college to know that they really can achieve whatever their goals are.

Here are some of the things I've learned that have helped me become a successful friend, student, and the best version of myself I've ever known.

Positive Vibes

Having an open mind and a positive outlook can do a lot to combat the negative thoughts and emotions that so often pervade the mind of someone struggling with a mental illness in college. No matter how literal you have to get - even standing in front of the mirror and praising yourself is totally acceptable - you have to remember your worth and the good parts of your life.

There are other things you can do to spread the happiness - hang pictures in your dorm room, take part in campus events, dress how you like to - the possibilities are endless. Doing whatever you can to make yourself happy will allow you to settle in more easily, setting you up for an awesome year ahead.

tea, coffee, beer, cake
Kayleigh Bounds

Exercise and Healthy Eating

Working out is not only a great stress-reliever, but it is also an activity that comes along with an attainable, healthy goal. You don't have to start downing protein shakes or spending 2 hours a day at the gym - getting ripped isn't the point (unless you want it to be). The point is to create a routine, to clear your mind, and to feel better physically - because physical and mental health are connected.

Believe me, I know how hard it can be to stick to these kinds of goals. I still don't have a steady routine down - but I know that every time I do make it to the gym, I ultimately feel a whole lot better for the rest of the day.

Another helpful part of this, something I also still need to work on, is eating healthy. It's easy to gravitate towards pizza and ice cream (my go-to meals on most days), but the healthier you eat, the more functional both your body and mind will be, which over time will provide you with days when you don't even remember you have a mental illness.

water, grass, apple
Kayleigh Bounds


It's often difficult to push away insecurities, especially during a time of change. What's important is that you never stop reminding yourself of the things you're good at and take pride in. It can be anything: a talent, your kindness, your looks, anything.

Another important part of this is that you keep these reminders up even when you are feeling alone. The hardest part of being at school, for me, has been making and keeping friends. What I have come to find, however, is that feeling bad about being alone sometimes only fuels my anxiety. A huge part of being confident is learning how to enjoy being alone and being your own company. Be a good friend to yourself first, and then others will come (I promise). 

Kayleigh Bounds

Campus Resources

Reaching out for help can be tough - especially when it comes to something as stigmatized as mental illness in college. Because I never wanted to accept my anxiety, I didn't really reach out for help until the summer before arriving at college. Seeing a therapist back home made me realize how helpful, and even how normal, talking to someone about what bothers you can be. 

Once I arrived at school, one of the very first things I did was set up an appointment with one of the counselors here. While it has taken me some time to get comfortable with my therapist here, I am so glad I reached out to meet her. Her office has provided me with a quiet, non-judgmental space for me to share my thoughts and concerns. Sometimes it's so relieving just to have a place where you can sit and cry for an hour without being afraid your roommate will see you.

Another resource that has greatly impacted my time here - one that I am in no way ashamed to admit - is my campus health center's assistance with my anxiety medication. Although I have been taking the same prescription for a couple of years now, it wasn't until I came to college that I found adjusting my dosage could really aid me in handling my stress and concentrating more on my studies and social life than on my weaknesses. 

ale, beer
Kayleigh Bounds

Keeping Connections

Staying in touch with family and friends from home - no matter how far away 'home' is - is incredibly important for keeping your sanity while living in a new place. I've spent my first year at school communicating regularly with one or two friends from campus, which can get lonely sometimes. My friends from home, through messages, remind me that  I do have people to talk to and who care about me.

While, like I said before, it's good to be comfortable being alone, you should never feel isolated. Staying in touch with old friends makes this easier, especially for people who struggle getting to know new people. 

Kayleigh Bounds

I hope these tips help you - whether or not you struggle with a mental illness - adjust to your new surroundings and make the most of your college experience.

P.S. Additional photo credits to my lovelies from home: Abby Cooke, Hayley Dunn, and Davio DeLuca.