Categorized | News Release

Checking In On Your College Student’s Mental Health

By Jennifer Rerngsamai, LCSW

mentalhealthOLD BRIDGE – College can be an exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful. Depression, anxiety, substance use, and eating disorders are common mental health issues on college campuses.

The Thanksgiving holiday and winter break can be an important time to notice if your college student is displaying any signs of mental health issues.

When your son or daughter comes home for the holidays, check in with them for signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. Ask questions about their academic and social life at school, and listen carefully to what they say, or don’t say.

Depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are the primary diagnoses of young adults. Most lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by age 20 to 24. Yet studies cite that stigma is the number one reason many students do not seek help from on-campus resources.

According to a 2011 survey by the American College Health Association, almost a third of students reported feeling so depressed within the last 12 months that it was difficult to function, and almost half felt overwhelming anxiety. More than half of young adults who are no longer in college are not attending because of a mental health related reason.

Left untreated, major depression increases the likelihood of substance abuse, contributes to declining grades, affects class attendance, and influences an individual’s subsequent development in negative ways. Suicide remains the third leading cause of death on college campuses.

While the time of transition to college can be exciting it can also be challenging, and it can be even more challenging for students already coping with mental health issues.

Parents can take steps to help a child living with a mental illness make a successful transition to college. Adequate treatment, communication, and proper planning are essential.

For students already living with a mental illness, think of your child’s mental illness as you would any other chronic disease, such as diabetes, and plan accordingly. Students who are working with a therapist should develop a treatment plan to take away to college.

Make sure your college offers services such as therapeutic intervention, medication management, crisis response, peer-to-peer support, and training for faculty and staff on how to recognize the signs of mental illness or decompensation.

Freshman year can be difficult because it may be the first time students are living on their own and making many of their own decisions. Families need to work together and discuss how to balance new responsibilities while maintaining optimal health. Parents can help students create plans to manage day-to-day tasks, and create an emergency response plan, just in case.

Proper planning and adequate treatment can help students with mental illness succeed in college. Communication and planning can help your child make the best of their college years.

Jennifer Rerngsamai, LCSW, is a mental health counselor on the staff of the Bay Behavioral Health practice, affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center. Call for an appointment with a specialist at 732-324-5199 in Perth Amboy or 732-360-0287 in Old Bridge.

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