Jennifer Overfield, 23, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during her senior year of high school in Rochester, N.Y., but it wasnt until she left the support of her family and went away to college that the disease threatened her life.
College life often reveals the symptoms of bipolar disorder for the first time, particularly for those at risk of the condition who have not yet been diagnosed. (The college years, in fact, overlap with the stage in life in which bipolar disorder typically first appearsbetween 19 and 23 years old, according to some estimates.)
Students who have been diagnosed with a bipolar spectrum disorder can take steps to minimize the risk of a relapse and stay balanced. Perhaps the most important step is to make sure you have a support system at school, which usually means connecting with the medical and counseling staff on campus. Students who attend school away from home may choose to maintain contact with their existing psychiatrist, but experts urge students to also make contact with campus health services.
Campus health services also provide counseling, which can help students cope with the emotional stress of living with bipolar disorder. Just as important, counseling can teach students everyday strategies for managing their symptoms.
In addition to campus health services, peer counseling can be a valuable source of support. Overfield now runs a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support group on her campus because she doesnt want students to feel as alone as she did her freshman year. She advises students with mental illness to reach out. “We want to make people more aware of the counseling office at orientation,” she says. “One of our major messages is, ‘You are not alone.”