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Summer Mental Health Check-in: College Students

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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Home for the Summer

 Parents who send their children off to college often wrestle with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, an empty nest can be quiet and easy to manage, while on the other hand, the same quiet that comes from the absence of teenagers can carry a tinge of sadness and leave moms, dads and caregivers wondering: what next? If you’re one of those new empty nesters with kids freshly off at college, don’t worry—there is still plenty for you to do. Above and beyond helping your young adult with the typical issues that college kids face, such as handling money, juggling class loads, studying, extracurricular activities and social pressures, there’s another area which you’re uniquely qualified to lend support: the mental and emotional health of your college student. Holiday breaks – whether summer, spring, or winter – are the perfect time to check in.

Psychological and Emotional Challenges

The statistics on college students are somewhat alarming. The most recent research shows the following. On average, about:

  • 30 percent of college students report signs and symptoms of clinical depression
  • 50 percent report feeling overwhelming anxiety
  • 25 percent report thinking about suicide
  • 15 percent report that they’ve behaved recklessly
  • 15 percent report that mental, emotional or psychological challenges have negatively affected their ability to function

When these numbers are combined with the fact that the typical age of onset of both substance abuse and mood disorders is somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25, it becomes clear that it’s a good idea for parents to keep a close eye on their college-age children. The good news is that a great majority of college students return home for the holidays. Which gives parents the perfect opportunity to gauge how they’re doing.

What to Watch For

Here are some signs to watch for in your college student:

  • Withdrawal from activities they used to love
  • Withdrawal from friends or family
  • Pronounced feelings of hopelessness or sadness
  • New and/or higher levels of irritability, anxiety or anger
  • Major changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty maintaining attention or concentration
  • Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
  • Reckless behavior
  • Chronic physical ailments like headaches or digestive issues

While trying to gauge the mental and emotional health of your college-age children, it’s important to understand that any or all of the signs above – when occurring alone or in small clusters – can be typical behaviors that anyone at any age might display when going through changes or experiencing some life stress. A little bit of irritability is no big deal, and changes in appearance, sleeping patterns or friends are not necessarily things to worry over, especially for college kids. It’s when these signs are persistent and occur repeatedly over weeks and months that they may be signs of underlying issues. The key for parents is to follow their intuition, engage in conversation with their kids and support them if they need it.

Campus Resources: Help is Available

The first years of college tend to put pressure on kids that they may have never experienced before. Away from the support from friends and family, it’s not unusual for college freshmen to feel at loose ends. Fortunately, every college campus has a counseling center for students facing emotional and psychological challenges. Oftentimes, new students simply need someone to talk to in order to sort things out. But there are some cases when kids really need help, and it’s crucial that they get it.

Even in the year 2018, many people—parents and students alike—believe that things like depression, anxiety and other emotional/mood challenges are caused by some personal flaw or internal shortcoming, and this can create a sense of shame or embarrassment that might prevent an individual from seeking the services of a professional. Thankfully, there’s a great deal of support that students and families can take advantage of free of charge: from Internet resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness to college mental health services, there is no reason for anyone to suffer in silence.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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