Keeping tabs on your college student's mental health

August 15, 2019 | by Kevin Stromberg, LCPC

Your child is going away to college. It’s a big life change. For most kids, college marks the first time they’re off on their own, away from any kind of adult supervision and free to make their own choices.

Many students struggle with the transition. Mental health issues often emerge for the first time during the college years, with the early 20s being the average age of onset. These issues may have already existed in high school or earlier, and are exacerbated by the pressures of college life.

According to research by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 3 college freshmen around the world report a mental health disorder.

Mental health issues on campus have escalated in the last seven years. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30 percent on average, according to a recent American College Health Association survey.

In 2017, nearly 40 percent of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function, and 61 percent of students said they had felt overwhelming anxiety in the same time period.

Mental health is a big reason why students take formal leave from college, so early intervention is a priority.

What can parents do to help their college student navigate the journey? Try these five tips:

  1. Talk about mental health. Some students delay seeking help because of the stigma of mental health issues or because they aren’t sure if their situation is serious enough. Talk to your college kid about how to recognize warning signs of a mental health issue. Remind them that they can come to you anytime for help.
  2. Stay on top of their grades. One warning sign of a mental health issue is a drop in grades, but you need to know about it when it happens. Make sure you have access to view your college kid’s grades so you are aware right away if they begin to slip.
  3. Check in with them. Check in with your college kid regularly, not just through text but through Skype or Facetime too, so you can see how they look. Visit your child in the fall of freshman year, during parents weekend or another time.
  4. Talk about acting responsibility. College kids often pick up unhealthy habits that can be detrimental to their mental (and physical) health. First-year students in particular can get in over their heads. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to cope emotionally. Talk about the realities of binge drinking, drugs and partying.
  5. Don’t ignore a high-risk mental health concern. If your child begins to experience any serious symptoms of mental illness such as suicidal thoughts or psychosis, take action. If you feel your child’s safety is at immediate risk, contact campus police or the administration.

Adjusting to college life can be difficult, but with the right information and support, your child can flourish. As parents, if you are aware of struggles early on, you can link your child with support on campus, such as advisors, tutors and therapists.

If you believe your college kid has a problem with alcohol, an eating disorder or any other issue, get them help. Early intervention is important to the recovery process.

Find support at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

Never a reason: talking with your teen about depression

Binge drinking taken to a new level on college campuses

Your teen’s brain has some growing up to do

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