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Back to School Mental Health Checklist

Written by O'Connor Professional Group
Published on January 27, 2019

College can be a stressful time for students. The pressure to succeed both academically and socially, coupled with increased drug and alcohol use, leaves many struggling with their mental health. With the summer wrapping up, it is a good time to reflect on how you’re feeling as you enter your next (or first) year of college. In addition to being a potentially stressful experience, college is a time when many people first experience symptoms of a wide variety of mental illnesses. Therefore, it is crucial to really be in touch with how you’re feeling.

Admitting you need help can be very difficult but it helps to view it as a strength and not a weakness. Everyone needs help sometimes and you will never start feeling better if you do not seek help for whatever is ailing you. All that being said, it can be difficult to know just who to ask or where to go to get that help.

There are some simple steps that you or a loved one can take to ensure the best possible chance of having a happy and healthy semester. These are not in any order nor do they all necessarily need to be completed by every person. Pick and choose what is most relevant to you and try to incorporate them into your life.


Many studies have linked exercise to improved mental health. Make some time in your schedule at school to get some structured exercise whether that be going to the gym, being on an intramural team, or other physical activities. Get them on the calendar!

Eat Right

Figure out easy meals you can make in the dorm/apartment. It can be easy to fall into the trap of eating poorly during college. Try to be mindful with what you are eating and putting in your body because a good diet can drastically improve or damage mental health.

Mindfulness and Self-care

Both eating and exercising can fall into this category. However, it is important to practice some mindfulness. A good way to do this nowadays is to download an app on your phone that can remind you to meditate and help guide them as well. Meditation can be a very helpful exercise to reflect on how you are feeling and relax during the stressful time at college. Self-care can mean many different things but, essentially, it means making sure you are taking enough time for yourself to recharge the batteries and get you ready to tackle whatever challenges will come at you.

Identify Resources at School (both social and therapeutic)

If you are in recovery from substances it is a good idea to identify AA meetings or any recovery meetings you choose in the area of your school (or on campus itself). The counseling office is also an important resource regardless of your substance abuse or mental health status. Know where it is on campus and how to set up an appointment if necessary. And use it!

Reevaluate your goals and be intentional

It can be easy to just go with the flow during college and forget what you really want to do and what you are doing there. It is important every so often to think about what you want out of the experience and to make sure your actions are aligning with that goal. Ask yourself: what are my goals this semester/year? What do I want to accomplish during my time here? What am I going to do afterward? You do not necessarily have to have all of these answers but this can be an important exercise to refocus yourself and concentrate on what you value.

Be honest with yourself

It is very important to be honest with yourself about how you are truly feeling. Trust yourself. Your mind and body will know when you are not feeling well and you should not ignore that feeling. Get help, talk to someone, talk with friends. Problems will never be solved by being ignored.

Tell somebody!

Pretty self-explanatory. Reach out for help. Do not be afraid. People are there to help you in a nonjudgmental way and you should utilize those resources if you feel you need to.

Communicate with Professors

Let your professors know what is going on with you. It is also always a good idea to go to office hours and stay on their radar. This will make your life easier and give you a connection to the people deciding your grades!

Be OK with Uncertainty!!

It is OK to not have all the answers and too not know if what you are doing is right. Trust yourself and be honest and you will be fine.

Set up a Communication Plan with Parents or Loved Ones

Communication with Mom and Dad can be stressful. Often parents have drastically different ideas than their children about how often is appropriate to talk. It is a good idea to sit down and talk about that before going and agree to how often both parties are comfortable with communicating.

Understand the Social Pressures and Educate Yourself about Drug and Alcohol Use

Alcohol and substances are a part of many people’s college experiences. It is a time when many people feel the ‘need’ or pressure to get drunk and high because everyone seems to be doing it. Educate yourself about what affect the substances you use can have on you both physically and mentally. Try to be intentional about how much you use and to keep it within the limits you have set yourself. Do not feel the need to use more than you are comfortable with ever.

Practice some Independent Living Skills at Home!

Knowing how to do some basic things before leaving for school can be very important to reduce stress and build confidence. Know how to do your laundry, know how to cook a few, simple meals, know about transportation and safety wherever you are going to school, and know whatever else you identify to be important or where your skills are lacking.

To learn more, contact O’Connor Professional Group today!

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