As a parent, getting your child ready for college and life out in the world is a job that never ends. Even after the computer is purchased, the car is packed and the dorm decor is complete, parents have an entirely different set of physical and emotional tools to pass on to their children. As Dawn Rendell, assistant dean of students for the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University states, “Kids need to know that college is going to be overwhelming for everyone at some point. The worst thing is when your child calls out of the blue and he’s crying over the phone and you don’t have the answer.”
Anne Vilen writes in her blog about her concerns as a parent of two, watching her kids find their way into adulthood. Vilen knew that with a family history of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, she needed to talk frankly about mental health with her son before he headed off to a new chapter in life. Rendell agrees and suggests that “parents share the facts about mental health with students ahead of time, engage in a conversation and explore the college’s resources together so that both know who to contact if a crisis comes calling.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, college students are faced with these staggering statistics when it comes to mental health:
- Almost 73% of students living with a mental health condition experienced a mental health crisis on campus.
- 7% of college students have “seriously considered suicide” during the past year. (Suicide is the third leading cause of death on college campuses.)
- Half of the students who stop attending college for mental health reasons never sought help with mental health services or support.
- Most college students report that they are likely to tell a friend or their parents before or instead of seeking help from a professional on their own.
With that knowledge in mind, Vilen suggests that parents take necessary steps, like the ones listed below, to set up their children to be successful college students.
- Encourage your student to join clubs, organizations or campus activities that involve in person participation. This helps to promote emotional well-being right from the start, along with appropriate sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise.
- Remind your student that it’s ok to ask for help! Jenna Scott, a clinical psychologist with the Jed Foundation (promotes emotional health and suicide prevention among college students) recommends that parents and students discuss common stumbling blocks in the first semester of college. After the discussion, together identify campus resources and key personnel should the student need to talk.
- Paying attention to your student and knowing when to intervene is imperative. Vilen’s daughter Annalee, who was a former residence hall director states, “It’s a roommate or a parent or a professor who starts an inquiry about a student’s well-being. Parents need to know that sudden anxiety or depression might be a sign that some trauma has happened. If you notice that, you need to really listen and help that person get the support he or she needs.” Scott notes to watch for these signs throughout the first six weeks of school: a sad tone in voice, little sleep, no mention of friends or social activities, and even a sudden change in the frequency of calls or texts.
- Finally, make a plan. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a great plan of action for parents and students to follow together. This plan includes decisions on medications if needed, an agreed upon list of contact numbers, the college’s policies on leaves of absence and more.
When it comes to health — especially mental health — students are still learning. That’s why TimelyMD is focused on the unique needs of students and the campuses who care for them. Our providers are interested in and specifically trained on student health. Jan Hall, Ph.D., TimelyMD’s executive director of mental health says, “Our intake mental health counselors are trained to consult with students regarding immediate concerns, including crisis management, as well as emotional, cognitive or behavioral concerns. I look for compassion, collaboration and expertise with our intake and licensed telemental health counselors.”