My daughter leaves for college in a few short months. She is counting down the days to independence, autonomy, fewer rules, more freedoms and exciting new experiences. I, on the other hand, feel a sense of urgency to spend as much time together as possible.
As a mental health professional, I’ve tried to prepare my children to be aware of their own emotional and mental health needs, and to reassure myself that they’ll be safe, confident, happy, responsible and ultimately prepared to be healthy, resourceful adults.
Recently, I found a helpful article that I’d like to share with parents who also want to prepare their kids as they head off to college. *“College Mental Health: A Checklist for Parents” was written by Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, Ph.D. She shares 8 essential action items that you can use as a guide with your college-aged child.
Prepare your Child: Communicate openly about the fact that they, or a roommate or a friend will likely experience some type of mental health issue while away at school. Let them know that you are comfortable with talking about mental health issues and that you encourage them to come to you without worrying about judgment.
Anticipate Increased Exposure to Alcohol and Drugs: Discuss and review various situations that will invariably occur as a new college student. Help your child plan in advance how they’ll make wise choices regarding responsible drinking, arranging sober transportation, pledging to stay together at parties, hazing and defining what “consent” is.
Have a Plan: All students should have a plan in place in case they experience a mental health crisis or just start to feel overwhelmed with college life. If your child has already had mental health counseling in the past, their therapist can help create that plan. If not, let your child know that there are resources available on campus, off campus, online and of course to contact you.
Stay in Touch: Make time for regular phone conversations; not just texting. Listen to what they are saying, but also how they sound when they say it. Pay attention to signs of sadness, fears, anxiety, irritability, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, tearfulness, unexplained physical complaints, or a sudden drop in academic performance.
Forget Stigma: If your child experiences mental health issues, getting them the help they need takes priority over the concerns about their reputation or their academics. Colleges have policies in place to help support students experiencing mental health problems. Speak to your child’s school and determine what the policy is regarding a temporary medical leave of absence to address their mental health needs.
Encourage Healthy Habits: Remind your child that good eating, sleep and exercise habits are crucial to maintaining overall general wellbeing. Rather than nagging or lecturing about eating their veggies, ask them to reflect on how they feel when they routinely eat healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods.
Learn about College Mental Health Services: Call the school’s campus Mental Health Center and ask what type of services they provide, how a student can access services, if there is a limit to now many sessions are offered, if there is a cost and what is it, and if they are able to make referrals to other local counseling providers.
Allow for Mistakes: Perfection is not a realistic goal. It is important that your child knows that you’ll support them through whatever challenges they face. Mistakes are unavoidable and often times are an opportunity to learn important life lessons.
If you or your college student is concerned about mental health related issues as you prepare them for college life, or are struggling with ongoing mental health concerns, please contact Boca Behavioral Health at 561-961-9077. We can help develop your own individualized mental health plan as you or you child heads to college.
*Summarized from article written by Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, Ph.D., Director of College Mental Health Programs and instructor at Harvard Medical School, as published in “The Sober World” magazine, October 2018, vol.7, issue 10.