Alex was an outstanding high school student. He took all the AP classes he could and left for college with a number of credits already under his belt. Life was good.
The shock came pretty quickly. Here was a completely new “ball game.” While he breezed through his high school courses, the academic expectations of professors were much higher. For the first time in his life, things didn’t come quite so easily, and he was forced to spend much more time studying.
It was stressful to be sure. This formerly social and activity-oriented kid was forced to curb those parts of his life, just to get assignments in on time, do boatloads of reading, and pull all-nighters before exams and paper deadlines.
The good news is, he was resilient and found ways to deal with his stress and anxiety. Gradually, things got better, and he was back to his normal self.
College brings with it an academic and cultural shock for lots of young people. And that shock can result in stress and then anxiety. And for those who do not have the tools to deal with it, there can be devastating consequences.
Looking at Some Statistics
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 25% of young people between the ages of 18-24 develop some form of mental illness.
In a more specific study, The National Alliance for Mental Health on Campus reports the following:
- Over 11% of college students are diagnosed with anxiety disorders every year; 10% have been diagnosed with depression. A far higher percentage are not diagnosed because they do not seek help.
- 73% of students who enter college with a diagnosed mental illness will have a crisis while in college
- 7% of college students state they have considered suicide
- 50% of students who leave college due to mental health issues have not sought help prior to dropping out. They may tell friends or parents, but they do not go to available professionals on their campuses
Parents Must Step Up
No parents want to see their child struggling, especially if that child is miles away on a college campus. But they can take several steps to provide help and advice that can make a huge difference. Here are nine things parents can and should do.
- Have “the conversation” before your child leaves for college. Your child needs to understand that every college student experiences stress and anxiety, often more than once, during their college years. And these can lead to depression, which can paralyze a person. Cal Hicks, Director of Customer Support for the academic writing service, Studicus, has this to say: “Every day, we encounter students who are overwhelmed with academic work. They are anxious, stressed, and often in a panic. While we can help them with the academic pressures, we cannot relieve the mental and emotional issues they face. It’s important that friends and relatives assess the severity and step in when necessary.”
- Research the mental health resources on campus, and be sure that your student knows where to go to get help. Most schools have mental health services. NAMI has student organizations on many campuses – a great resource for kids to share their mental health with others who are also suffering.
- Keep lines of communication open. Check in daily at first, if only through text and email, and establish ways to communicate “face-to-face” via Skype or any of the other numerous tools out there. It’s important to see your child and confirm whether he or she is dealing with the stressors or succumbing to them.
- Take action if things deteriorate. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death on college campuses. If you have such concerns, it’s up to you to contact mental health professionals on campus and ask them to intervene.
- Urge your student to join at least one campus club or organization. A roommate is only a single person. But getting involved in at least one activity will foster your child’s need to have personal contact with others and pursue some interest that comes with no pressure. Lifelong friendships are often established through these associations.
- Try to confirm that your child is eating right, getting some exercise, and getting an appropriate amount of sleep. This is easier said than done. You aren’t there to be the “helicopter parent” that is so much in the news today. And you cannot micro-manage your student’s life from afar. But, if you have a solid relationship with your child, you should ask questions and will probably get honest responses. This is also the time to acknowledge that stress and anxiety are normal and, in most instances, temporary. Care packages with healthy snack items do have an impact – your child appreciates your concern, and that food will definitely be consumed.
- Use vacations to explore mental and emotional wellness. Breaks are great respites for college students. They return to the comfort of their homes and high school friends. And they will tend to be more open about their stressors and anxieties. Take time to evaluate this kid that you have known since birth. You can be a good judge of overall wellness, and then provide advice about getting professional help either while home or when they return to campus.
- Watch for the danger signs. If a communicative child backs off, it can be a positive sign that he is adjusting well and becoming more independent. But it can also be a sign that depression is setting in and that he is not dealing with it well. If you notice a significant change in normal behaviors – if your child’s voice tone is sad, if he does not talk about new friends or activities, etc. – then you should intervene. Contacting the student services or counseling office may be warranted.
- Do not criticize or “condemn.” Many students who begin their college careers can experience serious mental health challenges. And they may decide to take a “leave of absence.” Your job is to be supportive, to bring that child home, and to get the professional help he may need. There are plenty of options for college in the future, even those that may be at home. The important thing here is your support.
The Critical Correlation Between Mental Health and College Success
None of us can be on top of our game if we are dealing with common emotional and mental health issues – stress, anxiety, depression – or facing tough situations with an already diagnosed mental illness. The key for parents is to be constantly aware of what is going on in their college student’s life, to recognize behavioral changes, to take action when warranted, and, most important, to reinforce that they support and love that child no matter what.
About the Author: Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks, and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now she works as a freelance writer at TrustMyPaper and GrabMyEssay. Kristin runs her own FlyWriting blog.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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