By: Tamara Ince
John had no experience with mental health illnesses when he sent his daughter Kara to college. Yet, despite having no family history of mental illnesses, just three weeks later his daughter had a mental breakdown. Every classic sign of a mental health condition was present. Kara was a star athlete and a naturally social person, but in the last three weeks had holed up in her room, ditched class and practices, stopped hanging out with friends, and no longer answered phone calls from her dad. Soon, Kara began hearing voices and thinking someone was trying to kill her. What happened to Kara was not uncommon. Twenty-five percent of students have a diagnosable illness. Approximately 50% of students become so anxious that their school work suffers. Furthermore, approximately 80% of students are overwhelmed by responsibilities. Yet, about 40% never seek help, even though mental health issues can be life threatening.
While we do not think of college as a catalyst for mental illnesses, it can be. In college, students experience new academic competition, changing peer support groups, less parental guidance, less support, diminishing connections to life back home, inability to be present for family illnesses and events, increased autonomy, and other external pressures. This can exacerbate existing known and unknown mental and trauma based conditions. It can also cause new mental health conditions. In America, approximately 75% of mental illnesses are first diagnosed in students during their college years. Unfortunately, colleges lack the resources to provide all the services students need. They try to help, but may only have funding for limited support, short therapy sessions, and minimal to no psychiatrist consultation. Additionally, the support may cease during school breaks. Furthermore, when students go abroad for studies, they may have less support and find that their therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments are not available or legal overseas.
According to a survey by the American College Health Association only 15% of college student who commit suicide received counseling. That is why it is important for you to stay involved in your child’s life as they transition to college. Ensure that you know what is going on in their lives and mind, provide non-judgmental support, and continue to ask questions. This will help your college student better handle stress. Additionally, make sure that, if they have been diagnosed with a condition, they are encouraged to seek out accommodations for tests, extensions for time-based activities, and other accommodations or resources available to minimize stress and impact due to cognitive ailments. Furthermore, encourage your student to join groups on campus. Studies have shown that joining groups in college minimizes the impact of stress and provides positive support to members. Moreover, help your child plan to ensure they continue to have the support and help they need when traveling and during school holidays.
There are many amazing resources for college students and their parents, that they may not realize are available at low or no cost. Together we can make school easier and safer for our students by providing them with the mental health support they need.
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Hefner, Jennifer, and Daniel Eisenberg. "Social support and mental health among college students." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 79.4 (2009): 491.
Hunt, Justin, and Daniel Eisenberg. "Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students." Journal of Adolescent Health 46.1 (2010): 3-10.