As if the college process wasn’t hard enough, now your college-kid is going through depression, anxiety, test anxiety, choosing a major and endless triggers that keeps him or her from succeeding. Here’s the low-down.
I have kids coming into my office every summer who are freaking out. Freaking out means disstressed, uptight, undone, confused, panicked and withdrawn. Whether drugs and alcohol played a factor freshman year is a major issue. Many kids can handle it by the time college rolls around; many cannot. The predictors are unclear. You might as well listen to Mr Rogers to know what is going on. Knowing one’s family history is critical. In case you do not realize, college is just the beginning of a lifetime journey. If there’s a family history of any substance or mental health issue, your chances of success are already at risk.
- Add risky behavior. I am seeing a young man right now who was kicked out of his college and is facing criminal charges of rape and assault as an adult. If you’re going to college and you are still acting out like a child, think again. There are consequences to partying, losing your self-esteem, downright debauchery and drunken antics. It’s not funny. There are too many horror stories of a frat party gone bad to even repeat. Please refer yourself to a strong mentor or get professional help. Taking advantage of young girls is not a good look for you. Make sure you are versed in the term CONSENT. Just because you’re a top student and your parents are rich doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. That is so not cool. Keep your eyes on your work, that is the prize to freedom, not abusing your body.
- Add bad habits. If you had previously been in the habit of hiding out in your room addicted to video games all night, think again. This will not serve you well in school for two obvious reasons. 1. YOU MUST GET SLEEP IN ORDER TO FUNCTION, and 2. YOU MAY ACTUALLY DAMAGE YOUR BRAIN CELLS. I tell you this because I have witnessed first hand in my practice a number of boys who had to get hospitalized for depression and anxiety following these kinds of episodes. Respect yourself and your body and make a schedule that normal people can understand. If it involves staying up all night and sleeping all day I promise you will not succeed in college.
- Add cripling social anxiety. In order to learn and grow and develop appropriately you have to go outside of your comfort zone. If you do nothing but keep to your room at college you will fail socially and this leaves out an important part of human milestones – being able to talk to and work with others. Remember all those annoying group projects that you had to do in HS? There’s a reason for that. It’s because educators feel that life experience in team work is critical to future goals. Think about it. If you graduate but you cannot talk to another human, it will be difficult to get a job with other humans. From eye-contact to confidence, the way you present yourself matters. It’s not too soon to attempt baby steps to go outside!
- Add pure academic stress. Many kids who did well in HS had tremedous support in small schools that coddled them. Once in college, that disappears and you are on your own. How you access help and support is almost as important as getting help and support. I worked with a college student who refused to go to the school counseling center when she was having a breakdown because she claimed she couldn’t find it. Exasperated, I tried to get her to look at a school map online. It turns out the center was just a few hundred yards from where she was. There is no shame in finding help. It’s almost 2020; let’s at least be aware where and how to direct our friends, family and roommates to appropriate guidance. You are not his or her therapist, but at least you know how to find one.
- Add a severe mental or physical illness. Many students have had to TEMPORARILY drop out due to a trauma, family crisis or mental health issue. The good news is there is treatment available and people can go back to their lives as soon as they are able. I know one girl who was struck by a car; another whose family member died in a car crash; and another whose boyfriend had a major ski accident. They all returned to school. You may be shattered but going back to your routines can be a huge part of moving forward. Trauma treatment, therapy, group work, time off and AA are all available in most cities.
- Lastly, if your heart is broken by a relationship, do not despair. Although it takes girls longer to recover, it usually just takes time. For longer lasting heartache, therapy, medication or trying something new can also provide hope, a key ingredient in moving on. Difficult break-ups seem to revolve around attachment theory. If we feel safe and secure it’s more likely we will be comfortable in a solid, strong relationship, not a hook-up culture. As John Gottman the relationship guru says, “In Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson explains that by being vulnerable, you can create a level of emotional safety with your partner. It’s the primary way to strengthen a relationship bond and keep love alive. Through vulnerability, you’ll be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy in your relationship. Brené Brown also champions this idea in her popular TED talk, The power of vulnerability.” Hang with friends, family and do your work — then realize you WILL NOT DIE OF A BROKEN HEART even if you think you might.
College success requires a lot of support. You didn’t get there alone. Community matters.
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