Mental Health and Wellness for College Students

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    College is an exciting time for many students but it can also be overwhelming, as students transition to a more independent lifestyle, both for those living at home and commuting to college and those living on a college campus. There are academic and social changes, that can be stressful – from 10+ page college papers to big frat parties. It can be a lot for some students, but many colleges are actively working to provide holistic support to student health and wellness. Most colleges offer many different types of services to help you find balance and take care of yourself while meeting the new challenges of college.

    Mental Health

    The scope of services and support for students with mental health conditions or who find they need support while in school varies from college to college. The best way to find out what services and groups may be available is to contact the counseling center. The services that they may offer include:

    • Group therapy with specific themes like chronic illness, eating disorders, anxiety, etc.
    • Crisis care, for students experiencing an acute mental health crisis
    • One-on-one therapy. Typically they will see a student for a limited number of sessions before referring them to a provider in the community.
    • Psychiatry, for students who need psychiatric medication. Typically they will see a student for a limited number of sessions before referring them to a provider in the community.
    • Tele-therapy. Many more colleges are offering teletherapy and telehealth. Students should connect with their school’s counseling center to ask about these options.

    If the student is currently seeing a therapist at home but plans to go away for college, ask the therapist if they can do telehealth. It’s important to note that licensure varies for therapists from state to state. Students should not assume that their therapist will be able to see them remotely. If the student is able to continue with their therapist remotely, they need to consider how they will have a private appointment when they are living at college. Some counseling centers provide rooms for students to meet with their therapist remotely. Additionally, most colleges have private study rooms (typically in the library) the students can reserve. Lastly, students can talk to their roommates about using the residence hall room.

    If the student is seeking a therapist in the area near the college, start early. Once the student commits to their college, they can:

    1. Check their insurance; make sure it applies if the student is moving out of state.
    2. Use the insurance search to find providers in that area.
    3. Ask the college’s counseling center if they can share a list of therapists in the area.

    The student may have to contact several therapists to see if they are taking new patients. It’s a good idea to have a list of 5-10 therapists to call. Students can use search engines like, Psychology Today, to find providers. Starting this process well before the student gets to campus can help reduce stress.


    It’s critical for students with hydrocephalus to maintain their health holistically when they are at college. For many students, this may be the first time that they have lived away from home. There is a lot to manage! Students and families can start to create healthy habits at home so that students have the skills to make positive choices when they are at college.

    Physical Health and Fitness

    During crunch time at college, when stress levels are high, some young adults with hydrocephalus report more frequent headaches and difficulty focusing and concentrating. Understanding what your body is telling you—that you need more sleep, more healthy food, even some fresh air, and exercise—can help you ward off stress-related headaches. Most colleges have a fitness center and an aquatic center. These usually offer fitness classes like yoga, Zumba, spin, and more. Additionally, they have treadmills, weights, and a track. Some colleges even have personal trainers that students can connect with for free or at a reduced cost. Many colleges also have clubs that are oriented around physical activity, like hiking or jogging clubs.

    If the student currently receives occupational or physical therapy and they want to continue that when they are in college, they will likely have to seek out services in the community. Some colleges have affiliated hospital centers on/near campus. That can be a good starting point. However, the student should:

    1. Check their insurance; make sure it applies if the student is moving out of state.
    2. Use the insurance search to find providers in that area.
    3. Contact the providers well before the start of the semester to get into their system and to share information from the student’s previous provider.

    Stress Reduction

    Many colleges offer meditation sessions, mindfulness, and other opportunities for students to combat stress. Students can ask about what services their college offers.


    As many students with hydrocephalus know, what you eat can distinctly impact how you are feeling. It can be challenging to be mindful of what you are eating, but paying attention can make a difference. Most colleges offer a wide array of food choices. Students can use the dining services website to see what types of food are being offered and think about food selection prior to walking into the dining hall. Additionally, if students need accommodations related to food (allergy, intolerance, or special diet), they can request accommodations. That process is typically coordinated between the DSO and dining services.


    Creating a routine can really help students construct a healthy lifestyle when they are at college. Students can get a planner or calendar and insert all of their classes. From there they can begin to identify time for eating, studying, exercise, rest, and fun. Many colleges now offer time management support through one-on-one sessions or workshops. If the student needs assistance in this area, they can talk to the DSO.

    Drinking, Drugs, and Parties

    When many students envision college, they think about having an active social life. Some of those social experiences may include alcohol and substances. It’s important for students to understand that their reaction to drugs and alcohol may vary based on their type of hydrocephalus or specific response to the substance. However, drinking in excess is not good for anyone, whatever their health status.

    Still, even people who know better sometimes have too much to drink and find themselves rewarded with that nasty side effect – the hangover. In some ways, hangover symptoms can resemble those of a shunt malfunction: headache, lethargy, nausea, or vomiting. However, a hangover should clear up within a few hours to a day, at most. If symptoms persist, you may be experiencing a shunt malfunction. Students should call their doctor if they are experiencing a persistent issue.

    Students also need to be aware that many medications—prescription and nonprescription—are adversely affected by alcohol. Some prescribed medications may lose their effectiveness, while others can lead to extreme drowsiness or dangerous, even deadly, side effects when mixed with alcohol. If the student is taking any medications, they should know if there are any possible effects when drinking alcohol. Students should not be afraid to ask their doctors about the impacts of drinking or of using substances, such as marijuana. This way, the student can be informed about the impacts and make the best decision for themselves.

    Students should also consider personal safety if they know they are going to be drinking or using drugs. Students can travel in a group and make sure that their friends know where to find their emergency medical information. It’s a good idea for the students’ friends to have the students’ parents’ phone number in their phone. This article provides some basic information for students on considerations and alcohol awareness for college students.

    Students with hydrocephalus need to take their health and well-being seriously. Planning ahead, thinking through the scenarios, and having real conversations with doctors, parents and friends can help them be prepared.

    Information you can trust! This article was produced by the Hydrocephalus Association, copyright 2021, in collaboration with Annie Tulkin, MS, of Accessible College.

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