The transition from high school to college is often filled with a mix of emotions–excitement at leaving home, anxiety about starting a new phase of life, worry about academic and social challenges, and sadness about leaving behind friends and family. New graduates can often put a great deal of pressure on themselves to launch into a successful and independent college career. Unfortunately, the transition is often more challenging than anticipated, with an increasing number of college students struggling with a variety of mental health disorders.
Anxiety is the top presenting concern amongst college students, with the second being major depression. Many students might have a genetic vulnerability to mental health conditions, and new college stressors could be the triggers that cause mental health disorders to manifest. Common stressors include being away from family, managing an intense academic load, and managing new roommates and challenging social situations. Often, college brings up concerns about alcohol and drug use.
So what are some ways we can best support our young adults through this challenging transition? Here are five tips to support mental health for college students:
1. Know Your Child
Not every teen needs, wants or is ready for a four year, away from home experience. Observe your child closely during the high school years, in terms of strengths, challenges, and the environments in which he or she seems to thrive. Maybe a community college is in order for the first two years, or maybe a university closer to home. Follow your gut, and your child’s feedback, on what feels like a manageable first step post high school graduation.
2. Keep The Lines of Communication Open
Let your child know that you are always there for them even once they leave home. During this time of separation and individuation, kids may feel like they need to handle it all on their own. Or, they may feel like it is hard to share about bad choices or miscalculated risks. Let your child know that you are always there. Do your best to be a compassionate, non-judgmental presence when they share their concerns.
3. Encourage Professional Help
Most schools offer onsite counseling and mental health support. Encourage your child to avail themselves of support when needed, or even just as a way of increasing their support system. This includes seeking appropriate accommodations for mental health conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities.
4. Normalize the Process
Let college students know that this is a time of growth, learning, and development. They are not expected to know all of the answers, or immediately adjust to their new life. It is okay to have growing pains as a completely normal part of transitioning to college. Having difficulties adjusting is common, and a part of being human–not an indication that they are somehow incapable or not ready.
5. Encourage Stress Management
While some stress may be a part of the process, other types of stress are potentially avoidable. Encourage your child to find a healthy support system, maintain positive sleeping, eating, and exercise routines, and pace their course load to avoid unnecessary academic burdens. Limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding drug use can also help with living a healthy lifestyle. College is a time to build positive habits that can support mental and physical well-being in adulthood.
College is an exciting phase, that also carries the risk of new stress and mental health burden. Being prepared and supporting our students as they navigate this transition can make an important difference in terms of how the college experience unfolds. Let’s all do our part to minimize the risk of mental health disorders in young adulthood, and lay healthy foundations for college and all the years beyond.
Do you have a question? Send our team a message or call 888.717.9355