CIT Consultant Stephanie George discusses how to help your college-bound child plan for wellness
Q. Nationally, there has been a strong uptick in students reporting depression and anxiety as a function of the transition to college. What’s your best advice for parents, including advice about resources?
Before your child heads to college, I suggest you have a conversation about mental health. Making a plan is a good idea for both students who have a history of mental health issues as well as students who have not experienced mental health issues before. Begin by talking with your child about nutrition and sleep. Help them figure out what they need and brainstorm ways to create this for themselves. Brainstorming can include talking about a range of practical matters, from the food plan they sign up for, to discussing when their best study hours are.
Another part of the plan should be to talk about resources on campus. To find these resources before the student is on campus, look on the campus website or call campus departments directly. Begin with the residence hall your child is living in. All residence halls have a resident assistant (RA) on the floor. An RA is a student specifically trained to help other students. The RA creates events for the floor and helps students connect to others on the floor and the campus community. Make sure your child meets their RA on move in day and challenge them to attend a few hall events in the first few weeks of school. These events help new students meet others who are new and in the same boat.
Next, make sure they know who their academic advisor is. This person is a great resource if your student is having a hard time with a class or school in general. Often, students meet advisors at orientation. If that’s not the case, they can look online on the college academic advising website to determine next steps.
Research the counseling center and what services they have available. Find out how a student can make an appointment and where they are located on campus. If your child has a history of mental issues then I would have a more organized plan around counseling, including specific counselors either from home or on campus. It’s important here to understand what your insurance covers. If your child is currently on medication – for example, to deal with anxiety or depression – and you expect their needs to continue, talk to your current physician about how those prescriptions will work when it is time for college.
Q: Parents will sometimes say: my child was so gregarious in high school, but now it seems as though they won’t leave their rooms. They look for friends in their room, or the two rooms proximate to their assigned room.
It’s frequently the case that they will find their first close friendships on their floor or in their residence hall. That is a great place to start! Too, there are often hall or building-wide events, and this is a great way to meet other students without it being overwhelming.
Another great way to meet new people is through recreation. The gym on campus and activity clubs are two strong ways students can get out of their rooms to meet people. Most campuses have an outdoor recreation office, giving students who are interested in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping or water sports a way to get involved and meet people.
Each campus has a student activities office where students and administration plan activities for the campus. In this office you can also find a wide variety of clubs to join. These events and clubs are a great way to meet people especially at the beginning of the year. At the beginning of the school year most schools have activities fairs. Try to encourage your child to attend these events.
Finally, if a student has found a specific academic area they are interested in, have them talk with the professor or a TA of a related class, to see about any clubs or research or other apprentice opportunities that may be available. This is a great way for students to connect with other students who have the same academic interests.
Q: Great advice. Any additional ideas?
If there is an opportunity to live in a living learning community (LLC), do it. These are communities where the students all have something in common. There might be a French House, for example, or an LLC formed around nutrition, or one for students who do not drink alcohol. These LLCs can be a great way to get to know people because they live together and take a class together. Make sure you sign up for orientations and have your child take a freshman seminar class if they are offered. All of these are with students in the same situation and can help take away the anxiety of meeting new people.
A resource I love is Mental Health in College | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Take a look! Irrespective of how experienced you are as a parent with mental health issues, this website has effective ideas, tips, and plans to help you launch your child onto the right path.
Stephanie George is a consultant at College Inside Track. She has a B.A. in Communication from Curry College, and an M.A. in College Student Development from University of Denver. She worked in residential life and academic advising at numerous colleges before becoming a full time college admissions consultant.