College is a time of huge transformation- many freshmen have never lived away from home. If your child is going to a college/university far away from home, it can be an intense change. This is to be expected. Everyone looks forward to this move but not many anticipate the feelings that may appear when it happens.
I am years away from sending a kid to college, but Cameron starts high school in August. I AM NOT READY.
The Big Move
College does have its good points- so much freedom! You can pick the time of your classes (kinda), when you come in at night (let’s get real if you come in) and many other choices. I loved not having classes before 11 am.
This was fantastic until I transferred universities and the only classes left towards my major (Clinical Psychology) were all at 8 AM at the new university.
UGH. Throw in two toddlers and things get outrageously fun.
The Factors Add Up
However, things can get stressful. There’s a lot of pressure. Grades are a thing. Scholarships depend on grades, as does most of the financial aid. Many college students work. Working plus studying can create stress. If you have other factors adding to it- kids, issues with parents, etc, things can seem almost unbearable.
Another factor is coming into college with a mental health condition, either diagnosed or not. The extra stress can exacerbate these illnesses and contribute to “breaks”, in which someone loses touch with reality and almost always needs hospitalization. Many of those with severe mental illness (SMI) have the first break around college age. A break can also mean a severe depressive episode.
This is just a short list of mental health conditions that are seen in many college-age students:
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depression
- Eating disorders
- Addiction/other Substance Abuse Disorders
This information can be found at: Affordable Colleges Online
Colleges and Universities Have Options for Care
Your child has an option right on campus- may have an office for mental health care. It’s usually free or very low cost. Some take insurance, some don’t, depending on the school.
They are run by graduate-level psychology students and faculty. The major downside is that they can only offer so much help due to their limited training, hours and other factors. These offices can, however, refer patients out to local therapists or other locations like the ER in case of emergency.
Another option is a more difficult one- reducing hours or even taking a semester off. This can mean a loss of financial aid in many cases. Nobody wants that. Many don’t want to take time off, even a semester, especially not for mental health issues. It makes the condition come out in the spotlight.
Some colleges and universities are seeing the issue and doing more to help- therapy dogs during finals week, encouraging students to seek help earlier instead of waiting. They are also encouraging students to look out for their friends. This can be a huge help. Some are including self-care topics in their freshmen seminars.
From (Not So) Far Away
What can you do?
- Talk to your child. Ask how things are really going. Let them know it’s okay to struggle a bit. It doesn’t have to be easy all the time.
- Encourage your child to look out for their friends- not like they already don’t. This is a different kind of looking out.
- Remind them they can come to you if they don’t feel okay. You’re here to help them.
College can be a great experience. It’s full of change, fun and sometimes really dumb things. Growth is scary. That’s why our baby birds need to know they can always come back to us.
Pictures courtesy of Pixels
For further reading: Learning and Performing Under Pressure
Have you had a child go off to college? How was it?