As a college senior preparing to enter the “real world” (although college is definitely no fantasy land either), I am starting to realize that the free on-campus mental health resources that currently are just a walk down the street away, will not be so conveniently accessible in less than eight months. Also, as an Resident Advisor, I encounter so many students ranging from freshmen to seniors who have asked for help and come to realize the important role that mental health plays in their life.

On top of this, entering the workforce for the first time  makes it that much more important to take care of your mental health. This period is characterized by rapid changes physiologically, sexually, cognitively, and emotionally, and it is important to have tools to deal with this transition. 

All throughout college, we have devoted significant time and effort to self-discovery and personal/professional development, through taking tough courses, finding research or internship opportunities, or getting involved on campus. Juggling all of these responsibilities and commitments we feel like we “have to do” in order to find success is no easy feat. Figuring out how we want to live satisfying and meaningful lives while balancing the expectations set by those around us, the pressure can take a physical and emotional toll. The college journey is not always smooth sailing and can in fact be quite tumultuous.

On top of this, societal expectations placed on what is deemed a “successful” transition to adulthood can be challenging to live up to. Those actions you take and decisions you make to help find the perfect job/career, grad school, city to move to, and living situation are intimidating. To add to this ever-changing period, many serious mental health conditions can emerge in one’s late teens or early twenties, at the peak of all of these changes that can be tough to grapple.

So, how do we continue, or, perhaps, develop healthy strategies to maintain our mental and emotional health during a time of such stark transition? Also, how can those around us support that daunting transition?

As college students about to enter the real world, we need to be proactive in keeping mental health at the forefront of our minds as we embark on another potentially tough transition. None of us has to have it all figured out the minute we across the stage to claim the diplomas we worked hard for, nor should we expect that of ourselves. It is also important that we find balance in our post-grad lives, because we are not just preparing for a career, but for the rest of adulthood.

As the future looms, mental health and access to resources is something that should be a priority on our lists, just like any other criteria for best places to live, work, or meet others. College graduates are among the populations that struggle the most with mental health, but the solution starts with the decision to make mental health a priority at all times—not just in times of stress.

Graduating seniors can reach out to their school counselors at universities for assistance in finding therapists in their new cities, developing plans for how to pay for treatment, and advising them on managing the stress that comes with leaving college. Also, soon-to-be graduates can seek assistance from more experienced peers or family back at home to navigate the healthcare system.

Finally, future employers need to understand and be accommodating for times when mental health comes first (aka always). One great example that gained national attention this summer was an email Madalyn Parker sent to the CEO of her company Ben Congleton. Parker informed the staff that she needed to take the next two days off to focus on her mental health, which promoted a quick response from Congleton who praised her example and willingness to share and take care of herself. It was “a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations.”

As we graduate and embark on that next chapter, we should keep this example in mind, and not allow our mental health to take a backseat.