Mental health centers in colleges across the United States are reporting significant increases in the need for services for their students (Anxiety Association of America). College can be a time of angst and worry. Often the student is away from the support of family for the first time. Students suddenly are responsible for planning and taking charge of their studies, health, social life, and schedules. New stressors include lack of built in structure, availability of alcohol or drugs, problems with roommates, and loneliness. Although some kids seem to take these pressures in stride, others can slip into disorders that require treatment.

More than ever before, students arrive at campus with mental health needs already identified. Some have already been seeing therapists and many have been prescribed psychotropic medication to treat depression, anxiety, or various attention problems. The transition to college for these students can be even more difficult because of insufficient communication between the former mental health professionals and the college mental health center. Furthermore, because of differences in health insurance coverage or lack of resources, students may not have an adequate number of sessions or trained professionals available to them. Another obstacle for parents is that now the child is 18, many mental health centers are not accessible to parents unless there is an emergency. This can be frustrating for parents who wish to consult in order to make sure that their child is getting the best treatment.

Spring is here and many students have made it through a long winter. Most weather the process. But other students end their first year disappointed. And some even depressed. Spring sometimes brings on strong feelings and emotions. And right now, final exams loom on the horizon. If you are close (family member, friend, or parent) to a college student this might be a good time to increase contact.

  • Make a few extra phone calls and add some words of encouragement.
  • Ask about what is going on in his life. Is he getting out, seeing friends, going to classes?
  • Send a box of cookies or special hot sauce. Or send a $20 bill for a pizza (college students are almost always broke).
  • Make a short visit if possible to see how the student looks. Has she lost weight, or stopped caring for herself? Messy college dorms are the rule, not the exception, but look for unusual changes that seem out of character.
  • Explore options for help if you see a need. Offer to make and go to the first appointment.
  • Check out how insurance or college health services can pay for the treatment. Remember though, the student must agree to the services for them to be worthwhile. If you try to force mental health you might just get resistance.
  • If you feel that the child is a danger to him or herself or others, insist on an emergency evaluation.
  • Add love.