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Managing Mental Health Conditions in College

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Sure, you know the basics required to make it through school, but the real world is a whole new thing! Where do you get support for that?



Sure, you know the basics required to make it through school, but the real world is a whole new thing! Where do you get support for that?

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When choosing a college, there are the usual “How To Lists” that can be super helpful.  However, they often don’t consider additional factors that students with mental health conditions or psychological disabilities need to consider.  This post is the first installment of a blog series MANAGING MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS IN COLLEGE and will look at some of the factors you need to include in your decision- making factors when choosing a college if you have a disability or mental health condition.  College is really different from high school in many important ways that can affect your choice of which college to attend. Each week a new blog post in the series will be shown here.

If you have any questions or comments about any of this information, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment in the discussion forum. Note that while this information would be useful to many students with disabilities or mental health conditions, various states have different systems and situations. The comments in this series are based on the Minnesota state educational systems for college, mainly the University of Minnesota, the Private College system, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Private for-profit colleges and universities are not reflected in this series as each school is unique and it would be too complicated to try to address each college’s unique factors.  If the school receives financial aid, they are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and thus, reasonable accommodations are required unless doing so would compromise the integrity of the program or cause undue hardship.  Each college must have a designated person to respond to requests for disability accommodations.


Your Goal for College

This might mean the career path you are looking at and whether or not the college offers a major that will train you for that path.  That may be a specific major, for example, if you want to be a police officer, you should find a school that has training in that area.  Other career options leave you more open in the major. For example, if you want to work in a business setting, you can do that with a business degree but there are people working at businesses with many other types of degrees.

If your goal of college is to live on your own away from your parents, you might look for a school that offers campus housing.  Living in student housing where there are meals served, can make learning to cook something you can put off till you have a few other things worked out.  If you like to cook and have a wide variety of foods, you probably don’t want to live in a dorm that doesn’t allow cooking in the dorm.


Do you want to stay close to home so you can continue to live at home?  Maybe you get lots of support and help at home and you don’t want to transition away from that while your starting school.  One way to handle that would be to start at a Community College, get your feet wet in college and learn some independent living skills so you are more comfortable starting college.  If you are ready for a bigger challenge, you might want to look for a college farther away and live on campus or closer to the school.  It all depends on your current level of comfort living away from parents.

If you need to keep in contact with therapists and medical professionals, you might want to stay within driving distance with them so you don’t have to find new providers away at school.  If that doesn’t bother you, just make sure to add that to your list of things to do before you leave home.  Many students find it stressful starting college and if stress causes you difficulty with your mental health or disability, you don’t want to be caught away from providers you know in a crisis situation.

Availability of Transportation

Do you drive?  Will you have a car on campus?  Many schools don’t allow freshmen to have cars on campus and parking may be at a premium. Can you take the bus?  How will you get around? Do you need to get to medical or mental health appointments?  What about picking up prescriptions?  Is there a pharmacy that delivers to your home or dorm?

Size of School

How big of a school are you looking for?  Do you want a large University with many more course options and resources but perhaps more challenging to get around? Or do you want a smaller college or university where you know lots of people and can get from class to class in 10 minutes?  If you will be needing disability accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, know that all schools should have resources for students with disabilities (including psychiatric disabilities to request and receive accommodations.  Larger schools will be serving more students with disabilities but also should have more staff to do so.  Smaller college including Community Colleges also offer accommodations and services and may be more supportive to help you get adjusted to using college accommodations if this is your first time. However, they may only have one person who coordinates all the accommodations for all the students.  This may mean that to get the individual attention, you may have to wait for an appointment.

School Resources:

Just as the number of staff in a smaller school may be less at smaller schools than larger ones, the types of resources may be different.  Smaller schools more likely have counselors with master’s degrees who focus on more day to day issues and may also do course advising and career counseling, whereas in larger schools you more likely will find Ph.D./PsyD trained therapists right on campus.  If you have Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental illness, and are wanting therapy or medication monitoring, you won’t usually find this at many smaller schools.  In this case, students use resources in the community to supplement what is offered by the college.  This means that you need to plan with these resources near your school or be prepared to get transportation to appointments. On the flip side, some students prefer to have their therapist off-campus so that they can keep the fact that they have a mental health condition private.  If resources are at the school, some students worry that others may see them going to see the therapist.  Even though discrimination is illegal, some students worry that if the school or their friends find out they have a mental health condition, they may see them differently and treat them differently.  Students entering competitive enrollment programs may not want others to know their private information for fear they may unintentionally or intentionally not accept them or require more of them, due to this information.

COVID Response of the School:

In this day and age, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the school’s COVID Response and resources in this guide to choosing the right college for you.  Some of the factors you will want to consider relate directly to what the school’s plans are for preventing and dealing with a Covid outbreak.  Statewide in Minnesota (and I would guess all over the US) schools are preparing to keep their students safe.  However, there are a lot more unknowns about opening on-campus classes.  From my research of school websites, it looks like all campuses will have a mix of in-person classes, with an early start to the semester in August and finishing by Thanksgiving break.  Students who are living on campus will go off-campus, presumably to their family’s home.  If that is an issue for you, it is another factor to consider.  If pivoting suddenly during the semester is more difficult for any reason, you may want to live in a space that is secure no matter how the school responds to COVID.

OTHER QUESTIONS AND FACTORS TO CONSIDER: (depending on your interests

  • Does the school have sports teams?
  • Do they have internships
  • Does the school have a wide diversity of students?
  • Is the campus mostly wheelchair accessible?
  • What happens if you are in a class located in a space not accessible to wheelchairs? (for wheelchair users)
  • Are there special programs to support students?  (i.e. TRIO)
  • Is there tutoring?
  • Are the classes taught by professors, instructors, or Teaching Assistants?

Before you visit, make a list of your own.  Think about what your day will look like.  How do you currently function from day to day?  What supports do you have now and will they be coming with you to college? For those that won’t, figure out what you will need to function on campus.  Consider things like your physical, social, medical, and other needs in order to be happy.  Try to figure out which school is going to be best at providing your basic needs both at the school and in the community where you will be attending college.

Next in the Series: Preparing for College with a Mental Health Condition or Disability.



June 26, 2018

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisi cing elit. Molestias eius illum libero dolor…


June 26, 2018

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisi cing elit. Molestias eius illum libero dolor…


June 26, 2018

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisi cing elit. Molestias eius illum libero dolor…


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Sue Smith

Author Sue Smith

Sue Smith recently retired from her position of 28 years as a Counselor at North Hennepin Community College. While at North Hennepin Sue managed and created both the Disability Access Services and the Community Connections Resource Centers. Sue taught classes in Career Planning and First-Year Experience including specialized classes in each area for students with disabilities. Sue has presented on topics related to college success both statewide and nationally.

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