As the holiday season comes to a close, many college-age students are leaving home and heading off to school. It’s an important time for parents to discuss with their children that they may encounter mental health challenges while back at college. According to the American College Health Association, “one-third of college-aged students report being depressed to the point of being unable to function.” Although this may be a difficult topic to bring up, it is just as important as an open conversation about sex or drinking. Parents should arm their college-age children with information and resources for a successful transition back into school.
Sometimes parents feel they’ve done their job once children are off at college. While some of this is true, it is important to check in regularly and let children know they are loved unconditionally. By setting up a minimum expectation to communicate, parents allow their children space to grow while also being there for support.
Unfortunately, some parents find out too late that their child is struggling academically, socially, or mentally. It may be helpful for parents to model talking about the tough topics, so that children are more comfortable sharing their struggles. For example, parents sharing personal stories of depression and how they coped not only normalizes depression, but also encourages strategies to work through the illness. It is also okay for parents to talk about symptoms of depression with their children, so they can be aware and know that seeking help at the onset of an issue will only assist in recovery.
For kids in college, seeking help may seem a bit more overwhelming depending on the size of the campus. Parents may want their children to schedule a “get to know you” appointment at the beginning of the school year with a college counselor, so it is easier to reach out if a child starts struggling. Parents may also want to share a 24 hour helpline with their children, explaining that a helpline employs professional counselors who can assist with many issues ranging from relationships to text anxiety to depression or suicidal thoughts.
The most important advice is to create an “environment for openness” with your college-age child. Parents can sometimes be naïve about the pressures children face in college. By encouraging open communication, parents can assist their children with academic, social, or even mental health challenges. Family support is many times the best medicine when children are facing difficult issues.
Lori Atkinson, Operations Director for The Kim Foundation
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools from 1992 – 2000, a stay at home mom for several years, and then started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory during 2010. Lori carries out many duties for The Kim Foundation which includes: scheduling presentations in the community, hosting booths at conferences, managing the Art & Creative Writing Contest, coordinating the School Resource Fair, organizing the Suicide Prevention PSA Contest, assisting with the annual luncheon, and participating in the coalition’s community outreach group. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.