Mental health checklist for college students

As fall approaches, freshmen arrive on campus with all sorts of things: luggage and school supplies, mini-fridges, and sports equipment. But in the midst of preparing for the day of moving, many people have not considered what tools they will need to support themselves mentally.

In other words, what can they do to protect their mental health?

In a year 2017 survey Of more than 700 parents and guardians, more than 40% said they did not discuss the possibility of anxiety or depression when helping their children prepare for college or post-secondary. In addition, most caregivers said on-campus mental health services were not a priority when choosing a school.

But a large number of teenagers are struggling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionmore than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40% increase since 2009.

Once they get to school, these problems won’t go away. A survey conducted in March by Inside Taller than Ed and College Pulse found that college students were more than twice as likely to rate their overall mental health as “poor” (22%) versus “excellent” (9%).

And a new research Using eight years of data from more than 350,000 students at nearly 400 institutions, the mental health of college students across the United States has on the decline. More than 60% of students surveyed for the 2020-2021 academic year met the criteria for one or more mental health issues, up nearly 50% from 2013.

Experts recommend that parents and teens take proactive steps now to help plan and maintain mental health during the big transition to college.

Consider contacting your university’s counseling center before you arrive at school. This is especially important for people who already have emotional disturbances or other mental health problems.

At SUNY Broome Community College in Binghamton, NY, the counseling center begins accepting enrollments as early as August 1, one month before classes begin.

“Many times when students come to us early, they have a lot to unpack,” says Melissa Martin, a licensed social worker and chair of counseling services at the school.

Jed Organizationa suicide prevention organization that aims to protect the mental health of adolescents and young adults, suggestions Ask the school’s counseling center as follows:

  • What services are provided?

  • Is there a maximum number of sessions allowed per year?

  • Is there a 24/7 counselor? If not, what emergency services are available after hours?

  • What amenities are available through disability services for students with emotional disturbances?

  • What policy does the school have when leaving school?

  • Are there other types of support, like a text line or resident advisor?

Check to see if the counseling center offers off-campus referrals, and put together a short list of potential providers to have in your bag before going to school. This is good practice for any student, as outside support may need to be sought if the school’s counseling center develops a waiting list. It also helps you familiarize yourself with your insurance plan to see what kind of coverage it offers. If you are not using your parent’s package, compare campus health insurance with other available options such as those provided by the Affordable Care Act.

“I think it’s never too early to say, ‘Hey, I need help,'” Miss Martin said. “You may not see anyone else reaching out for help, but they might not talk about it.”

Studies have found that students of color are less likely than white students use mental health services offered on campus, partly because of the stigma associated with mental health care but also because of the lack of diversity among counselors .

Ebony O. McGee, a professor of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, says those looking for a supplier of color can have the additional burden of trying to find one. off-campus therapist.

“That student might actually not do it, which could open up the possibility of turning into unhealthy things,” she said.

In addition to the counseling center there are many resources available to students. Tutoring, academic and peer counseling, educational coaching, student activities, and career services can all help support students’ emotional well-being.

Connecting with other students is especially important, experts say.

John MacPhee, executive director of The Jed Foundation, said: “College students report loneliness, isolation and feeling like they don’t fit in – those emotions are very common and challenging in their lives. first year of college.

Take a moment to look at the school’s extracurricular activities and clubs, and think about how to interact with others while on campus. And consider having a roommate even if you have the choice to live alone, adds Mr MacPhee – it can expand your social network and help remove stressors. .

Don’t count on high school friends or anyone back home – such as siblings, parents or religious leaders – who are especially helpful.

“I usually recommend making a list of the three to five biggest supporters in your life,” says Martin. “And when you’re not feeling your best at school, you know you can reach out to one of them.”

Dr. McGee, who was have learned emotional struggles experienced by high-achieving Black students.

“When many black and brown students have mental health conditions, it is often due to an experience of racism or sexism,” she said. “It’s about the environment that breeds alienation.”

Dr. McGee recommends finding spaces that are comfortable and sympathetic. “Go to places and spaces where you are affirmed and celebrated, not simply tolerated,” she says. It could be an extracurricular activity or a religious institution – anywhere you can find other disadvantaged students of color.

In the summer before college, experts say, teenagers should re-examine the way they eat, sleep and socialize, especially when given that they may have formed some unhealthy habits. strong during the pandemic. If a student’s basic needs are neglected, it becomes more difficult to foster a healthier state of mind.

Learning to support yourself and taking steps to become more independent can also make the college transition less jarring. Before going to school, practice budget management; advocate for yourself with a teacher, doctor or coach; or spend time outside of your childhood home – maybe with loved ones, or at summer camp.

Dave Anderson, clinical psychologist at the Children’s Mind Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides therapy and other services to children and families with learning disorders and mental health, said. “It’s just ups and downs, disappointments and hopes, and trying to figure out where they are.”

He advises a teenage client (who slept an average of five hours per night during senior year) to start getting eight hours a night this summer and watch how much screen time he spends. His client also started eating a healthier diet that included more vegetables and started exercising first thing in the morning because he knew his college classes would start later. during the day.

Drinking is “another thing that we will discuss very openly with teenagers during the summer before college,” says Dr. Anderson. Many high schoolers who have been drinking socialize with friends, he added, and in college they may feel pressured to binge drink or “play before the game.” But teens can prepare themselves for this and other types of circumstances — including drug use and sexual situations — by setting boundaries now.

“How can we make sure that this summer you are setting purposeful goals in relation to your limits and what you feel is safe for you?” he asked teenagers in college. Dr. Anderson added.

“But if we can be honest with kids about it, they’ll be more likely to set those limits when they go to college because they’ve practiced.”

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