College and Mental Health


header image mental health

There is a lot to juggle while you are in college and having IBD can make things a little difficult to balance. But remember that your health is not just inclusive of how you feel physically. Your mental health is equally important. While there is no evidence that anxiety, depression, or other emotional factors cause IBD, they do have an impact on how you experience these diseases.

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IBDestressing with the Foundation's National Council of College Leaders (NCCL)

In times where you are having these feelings, you may have an approach to help you cope, such as:

  • Talking to someone you feel comfortable with like a friend, or a family member
  • Meditation
  • Exercise (examples: brisk walk, taking a swim, yoga, or other exercise)
  • Breathing exercises
  • Going out with friends
  • Doing something relaxing, like a reading a book
  • Talking to a psychologist or mental health professional

Do not ignore these feelings, and be sure to talk to your doctor about these mental health symptoms.

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Learning to IBDestress with Dr. Megan Riehl

Finding a Mental Health Specialist

Finding a mental health specialist can be challenging when you are at school and away from home. It's important to take the time to think about your options and what type of specialist may be a good fit. Here are some things to think about that may be important to you when finding a mental health specialist:

How far can you travel?

  • There may be services on campus, or online support available. Make sure to think about what would work best for you

What is your budget?

  • There may be affordable options available on campus or online, or other specialist that are covered by your insurance provider. One way to find providers that take your insurance is to visit your insurance company's website and search for a list of specialists that are covered. If you cannot find a specialist that takes your insurance, ask their office about payment plans they may have available. 

How much time are you able to commit?

  • Making time for your mental health care is important, and you'll want to think about how you can manage additional appointments on top of all of your other commitments as a student. Some resources like groups, or online can be short term, or not as regimented. If you are looking for a long term treatment option, traditional therapy may be a good option. If not, you may want to consider campus of Foundation resources that have drop-in or more flexible scheduling options.

What type of setting do you prefer?

  • Think about what works best for you: a one-on-one setting, group or maybe online and virtual resources. Some specialists offer sessions virtually, while others offer in-person sessions. You can participate in virtual therapy anywhere you have access to an electronic device, and a space you feel comfortable talking in. In-person therapy traditionally takes place in a secure space like a specialists office. Text based and online therapy resources are also available. 

Are you looking for IBD-Specific Care?

  • Mental health specialists have a range of expertise and can apply their skills to a variety of situations. Some specialist will concentrate on a specific focus of care, or population. Campus resources may also focus on te topics that concern the majority of college-aged students and may not discuss chronic illness specifically. Think about if this is important to you when starting your search for a mental health specialist.  

There might not be one specific option that matches all your choices perfectly, remember to prioritize what is most important to you and you can always try multiple options to find the best fit:

Types of mental health support that might be available to you

College Resources:

Most college campuses have mental health services available to students. While some clinicians do not specialize in chronic illness, they are still well equipped for common issues that students may face. Other than individual therapy, schools may also have group therapy and support options that focus on a variety of topics. College campus resources are often free to students and in a convenient location. It is important to explore what your school offers that may work for you. 

Mental Health Specialist:

Different types of providers, including psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, can be mental health specialists. mental health specialists help people cope with a large variety of personal and mental health topics. Although most don't specialist in the specific treatment of chronic illnesses, they are trained to help people with many different aspects of their lives including relationship issues, behavioral issues ad self-reflection. Many people with IBD have mental health concerns unrelated to their condition and general mental health clinicians are a great resource. 

IBD-Specific Specialist:

Some mental health specialists may focus their work in the field of IBD or chronic illness in general. With many of their patients having similar medical experiences, they have a better understanding of what patients may go through and can offer more specialized help. This subset of the mental health field  is newer and fast growing, but as of now is more easily accessible in large cities and big hospital systems. If you are interested in this type of support, your health provider may be able to provide a recommendation. 

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National Council of College Leaders Members Discuss Mental Health

Other considerations for finding support:

Finding a mental health specialist that you feel comfortable with is very important. It may take several meetings to feel comfortable, or you may need to meet a few different providers before you find a good match. Here are some other things to think about when looking for a mental health specialist:

  • Gender Identity: When determining what types of resources are best for you, you may want to take into consideration the gender identity of your specialist
  • LGBTQ+ Inclusive: Some specialists focus on concerns that are shared by many in the LGBTQ+ community. They strive to emphasize an inclusive and judgement-free space to ensure the patients comfort. 
  • Ability to prescribe medication: Psychiatrists have the ability to prescribe medication. However, psychologists, counselors and social workers do not. If your provider believes that medication may be of benefit to you and they are unable to prescribe it, they can refer you to someone who can. 
  • Language: Do you speak another language or prefer to have therapy sessions in an alternate language? The languages that a specialist is proficient in may be an important factor for you. 
  • Faith: If faith is important to you and you would like it to be apart of your treatment journey, it may be beneficial to find a specialist you in knowledgeable in, and supports your beliefs. 
  • Methods/ philosophies: Similarly to mental health professionals specializing in certain focus areas, many also utilize certain therapeutic modalities. The approaches that a specialist may take depend on the presenting concerns as certain types of therapy are more applicable to certain situations. It is important to note that your specialist uses the evidence-based practices that you are comfortable with. 

 Other helpful resources:

  • There are support groups held within local communities across the nation that are lead by volunteer facilitators. These groups offer a safe space to be authentic and vulnerable with other IBD patients. 
  • Join Power of Two, the Foundation's peer-to-peer support program. This is a space where patients and caregivers receive one-on-one support from a Foundation-trained volunteer who may have had similar experiences. All connections are made through a secure app to ensure privacy. 
  • Look online for a mental health professional who has experience in psychology and gastroenterology using the Rome Foundation Directory.

  • Learn more about mental health and IBD here