Going to college is an exciting time in a teen’s life. It is filled with new adventures and new experiences. It is a time to meet new people and make new friends. Many people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), manage these new experiences and stresses fine. Others find the added stress increases their OCD symptoms. Some find it difficult to get along with roommates that don’t share the same level of neatness. Others find the lack of structure in their life now that parents and teachers aren’t there to help, to be difficult. With some preparation before heading off to college, the transition can be much easier.
The following are steps you can take during the summer to make sure you are prepared the first day of college:
- If you are currently receiving treatment - medication or therapy - you can take steps to make sure your information is up to date and accessible at college:
- Have your health records forwarded to the wellness center at your college
- Find out where you can get prescriptions filled. Some larger colleges have pharmacies on campus, for smaller schools you might need to go off campus. Make sure you know where local pharmacies are located.
- Talk to your doctor about whether he or she is comfortable with filling prescriptions while you are away at school or if you should look for a psychiatrist closer to campus. If so, ask for referrals.
- Talk to the wellness center about counseling services. Find out if there are limits to the type of therapy (some colleges don’t offer cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure response prevention therapy. Some have limits to how many sessions you can go to per semester). Knowing the limits of the center ahead of time can help you be better prepared should you decide to seek therapy on campus.
- Set up an appointment to talk with the therapist. Even if you don’t think you will need an on-campus therapist, it is a good idea to find out how to access services and meet the therapist should the need arise later.
- Ask your current therapist if you can do Skype or other online therapy sessions on a regular basis or when necessary. If not, ask for a referral to a therapist in your college area.
- If you have used accommodations in high school, be aware that these accommodations do not transfer over to college. You will need to requestaccommodations at the disability office of your college. Find out what documentation is required to request accommodations and then write a letter asking for specific accommodations. Make an appointment to meet with a disability counselor at the start of the school year.
- Keep in mind, in college, you do not receive accommodations unless you request them and they are not considered retroactive. That means if you find you need accommodations halfway through the semester, the professor will not go back to change any grades, the accommodations are only going forward from the date of your request. If you believe you might need accommodations, make the request as early as possible.
- You will receive a weekly schedule of classes. Create a time management schedule around that, putting in time to studying, socializing and taking care of your OCD (therapy, support groups, etc). Time management is important for both academic success and emotional stability.
- Seek help immediately when you are struggling with classes. Colleges have tutoring centers and other resources if you are struggling. Rather than waiting until you are in danger of failing a class, seek out help right away.
Communication and Support
- Keep the lines of communication open between you and your parents. You might want to show that you can handle college by yourself and not want to share problems with your parents but this can cause more problems. Let your parents know how you are doing and where you need extra help. They might be able to give you ideas or point you in the right direction.
- Consider giving your parents written permission to access your grades and health information. This allows them to keep track of how you are doing and be alert for any potential problems. If you find this to be intrusive, let your family know how much you are willing to share.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. While many college students want to show they are independent, part of growing up is also understanding that everyone needs help from time to time and the mature way is to ask for help.
- Look for support on campus. Check with the counseling/wellness center to find out if there are support groups for OCD. Talking with other students going through the same struggles helps take the focus off feeling alone and gives you others to talk to and share ideas.
- Think about situations that caused your OCD to flare up in the past. Did lack of sleep cause symptoms to rise? Did not eating properly cause you to need more order in your life? Did the stress of tests increase symptoms? The chances are, the same types of stressors will cause your symptoms to increase. Create a stress management plan for these situations so you are more prepared to handle them as they come up.
- Write a list of strategies that have helped you in the past. Think about which ones might help you in during college years.
- Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise are all important when managing OCD or other mental health conditions. These also help you better handle stressors in your daily life. Make sure you have a plan to take care of yourself when you are away at college.
- Make sure you are prepared for general life skills. Managing money, doing your laundry, cleaning your room all can add stress if you aren’t sure what to do. Hopefully by the time you head off to college you have general life skills, but, if not, talk to your parents about having some intensive sessions to make sure you have the basic skills.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.