To prioritize your mental health, put your wellbeing first

Alexis McDonald

The truth is that none of us really know what we’re doing when we get here, so we seek out advice. We get study tips, best sleep practices, organizations crowding around us promising friendships — and we’re all supposed to be having the best time of our lives. 

Despite all of this, no one prepared me or even acknowledged what really mattered: How to be mentally healthy at UT. So here’s my advice. I’m not an expert. I’m not a professional — yet. I’m just someone with life experience who wants to make sure no one walks through this campus alone, struggling to be mentally healthy. Which leads me to my first point:


You are never alone. 

To all the first-year students at UT, it’s not uncommon to feel alone and isolated at a university of this size. You question why it just doesn’t seem to make sense. Why is everyone else happy, smart, in a relationship, involved, thriving, while I’m … not? 

Mentally, we pull ourselves into a hole when we start to believe that we are the only ones experiencing loneliness, anxiety, sadness, etc. It’s a mental trap that encourages a cycle of isolation. 

The worst thing you can do for your mental health is struggle alone. Don’t do it. The day I started talking about my continuous struggle with anxiety was the day I kicked stigma to the curb. Guess what? Mental health is REAL. We all have it, and it’s just as important as physical health. So don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.


You belong here. 

I’ve had the privilege of serving as a resident assistant at Moore-Hill Residence Hall for three years now. In that role, it is my job to make a big community feel smaller. As a first-year student, that is really hard to do on your own. 

A large part of being mentally healthy is a sense of love and acceptance, or a sense of belonging. The advice that was given to me was to get involved. The more organizations I joined, the more I should feel like I belonged. Honestly, this is terrible advice. You can be around as many people as possible and still feel like you don’t belong. So my advice that I give to my residents and that I am giving to you now is to first acknowledge that you deserve to be here. 

First-generation students, you deserve to be here. Transfer students, international students, students living with mental health conditions like me: You deserve to be here. Once you believe that you are worthy and deserve to be at UT, the other part is just being patient. Find the spaces on campus that uplift you and the causes on campus that fulfill you. 

We all have a purpose for being here, and finding meaning is how we protect our mental health.


Fill your cup back up. 

Don’t ever let an adult tell you you’re young and have nothing to be stressed out about. 

My psychology professor told me the truth. This environment is very likely to create the most stressful time of our lives. 

Throughout your time in college, you will be under pressure. You will always be giving away your time and energy to school, commitments and friends. If you’re not careful, it can be detrimental to your health. 

As someone who has never missed a day of class, the day I could not get out of bed and go was the day I realized my mental health had been affected. My cup, which symbolizes wellness, was empty. The hard truth is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. 

My advice to you is to find the things in life that naturally give you joy and fulfillment and make sure you schedule it into your daily routine. Having enough compassion to put yourself first sometimes is the key to getting through these four years.

McDonald is a psychology senior and the president of the UT chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.