As autumn approaches, new students will bring all sorts of things to the college campus: luggage and school supplies, mini fridges and sports equipment. But in the midst of preparations for the move-in day, many did not consider what tools they would need to support them emotionally.
In other words, what can they do to protect their mental health?
In a 2017 survey of more than 700 parents and guardians, more than 40 percent said they did not discuss the possibility of anxiety or depression when helping their teens prepare for college or post-secondary school. Also, most caregivers said that mental health services on campus were not a priority when choosing a school.
But a large number of teenagers are struggling. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent sadness or frustration in 2019, representing a 40 percent increase from 2009.
Once they arrive on campus, these problems do not go away. A survey conducted by Inside Higher Aid and College Pulse in March found that graduate students were more than twice as likely to rate their overall mental health as “poor” (22 percent) versus “excellent” (9 percent).
And using eight years of data from more than 350,000 students on nearly 400 campuses, a new study found that the mental health of college students across the United States is declining. More than 60 percent of students surveyed in the 2020-2021 academic year met the criteria for one or more mental health problems, an increase of about 50 percent since 2013.
Experts suggest that parents and adolescents now take active steps to help plan and save for mental well-being during major changes in college.
Contact the counseling center immediately
Consider contacting the college’s counseling center before coming to campus. This is especially important for those who already have a mental disorder or other mental health concerns.
At SUNY Broome Community College in Binghamton, NY, one month before the start of the Counseling Center class, the registered students began visiting on August 1st.
“A lot of the time students come to us early, they have a lot to open up,” said Melissa Martin, a licensed social worker and chair of the school’s counseling services.
The Z Foundation, a suicide prevention organization that aims to protect the mental health of adolescents and young adults, advises the school’s counseling center to ask the following:
What services are provided?
Is the maximum number of sessions allowed per year?
Is there a counselor to call 24 hours a day? If not, is emergency service available hours later?
What accommodation is available for students with mental illness through disability services?
What is the school’s policy on absenteeism leave?
Are there other types of support available, such as text lines or residential advisors?
Check if the counseling center offers off-campus referrals, and collect a short list of potential providers in your back pocket before you come to school. This is a good practice for any student, as the school’s counseling center may need outside help to create a waiting list. It also helps to familiarize yourself with your insurance plan to see what kind of coverage it provides. If you don’t use your parent’s plan, compare campus health insurance with other available options provided by the Affordable Care Act.
“I don’t think it’s too early to say, ‘Hey, I need help,'” said Martin. “You may not see anyone else come forward to help, but they may not be talking about it.”
Studies have shown that students of color are less likely to use mental health services offered on campus than white students, not only because of the stigma associated with mental health care but also because of the lack of diversity among counseling staff.
Ebony and McGee, professors of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, say those looking for a supplier of color may have to take on the extra burden of trying to find a therapist off campus.
“That student may not actually do it, which can lead to unhealthy things,” he said.
Embrace other types of support
In addition to the counseling center there are many resources for students. Tutoring, academic and peer advising, educational coaching, student activity and career services can all contribute to a student’s mental well-being.
Connecting with other students is especially important, experts say.
John McPhee, chief executive of The Z Foundation, said: “College students report that loneliness and isolation and feelings do not suit them – such emotions are very common and challenging in the first year of college.”
Spend some time looking at extracurricular activities and clubs and think about how to engage with others while on campus. And even if you have the option of being alone, consider having a roommate, Mr. McPhee added – it can expand your social network and help with buffer stress.
Don’t count on a high school friend or someone returning home – a sibling, parent or religious leader, for example – who is particularly helpful.
“I often suggest making a list of the three to five biggest helpers in your life,” Mrs. Martin said. “And when you’re not feeling well at school, you know you can get in touch with one of them.”
One way color students can protect their mental health is to take African American history or ethnic studies classes and explore some structural issues that contribute to stress, anxiety and depression, says Dr. McGee, who has studied the experience of mental struggle. By high achieving black students.
“When many black and brown students have mental health conditions, it is often due to racist or sexist racist experiences,” he said. “It’s about the environment that gives rise to isolation.”
Dr. McGee advises finding a place of comfort and understanding. “Go to locations and places where you are reassured and celebrated, and simply not tolerated,” he said. It could be an extracurricular activity or a religious organization – anywhere you can find other marginal students of color.
Practice basic wellness habits
In the summer before college, teens should learn how to eat, sleep and socialize, experts say, adding that they have developed some unhealthy habits, especially during epidemics. If a student’s basic needs are neglected, it becomes more difficult to develop a healthy mental state.
Learning how to support yourself and taking steps to become more independent can make college transfers less annoying. Before coming to campus, practice managing a budget; Advocating for yourself with a teacher, doctor or instructor; Or spending time outside of your childhood home – perhaps with a relative or at a summer camp.
Older years can be “a rolling ride,” especially at Covid’s age, says Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit that provides therapy and other services to children and families with mental health and learning disabilities. “It’s just ups and downs, and frustration and hope, and trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be.”
He advised a teenage client (who slept an average of five hours a night in his senior year) to start getting eight hours of sleep each night this summer and be aware of how much time he was spending on screen. Her client also starts eating a healthy diet that includes more vegetables and starts working first thing in the morning because she knows her college classes will start later in the day.
Alcohol is “another thing we’ll discuss very openly with teens in the summer before college,” Dr. Anderson said. Many high school students are already drinking alcohol socially with friends, he added, and in college they may feel the pressure of having bilateral drinks or “pre-games”. But teens can now set boundaries and prepare mentally for these and other situations – including drug use and sexual situations.
“How can we be sure that this summer you are setting intentional goals related to your limits and what you think is safe for you?” He asked the college-bound teenagers. This conversation can sometimes make parents nervous, said. Anderson added 6
“But if we can talk to kids honestly about it, they can set those limits when they go to college because they’ve practiced.”