Going away to college represents an important transition for many adolescents. It’s a time of increased freedom and responsibility. For some, it will be their first prolonged stay away from home. The challenges faced by all students can be even more daunting for someone with bipolar disorder, easy access to drugs and alcohol, all-night cram sessions, sexual experimentation, academic rigor and competition, etc.
This is then complicated with issues of whether or not to disclose their bipolar disorder to friends, classmates, or professors. In places where most freshmen are placed in communal dormitory living situations, someone who is on medication will need to decide how to explain, or not explain, their daily drug regimen.
In recent years, colleges and universities around the country have experienced an increase in the number of students who are being admitted having already been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. Some common-sense planning can go a long way toward increasing the individual’s chances for academic and social success while at college.
• Make contact with the college’s counseling service to see what they provide for the students. If their resources are adequate, go ahead and make certain that an intake appointment is scheduled for early in the academic year. It will be helpful to have releases of information already signed so that the person’s existing psychiatrist/therapist can communicate freely with the new provider.
• If the university/college counseling center is not a good fit, get referrals and locate a provider in the area. While for some staying with a trusted therapist back home is an option they might want to use, it’s important to also have a local contact in case of emergency.
• For those who find support groups to be helpful, many universities and colleges have NAMI and/or Active Minds chapters (a student-run organization that provides advocacy and education) on campus.
• Talk to the student affairs office and their disability coordinator to assist with accommodations if needed.