What Parents Can Do to Safeguard Their New College Student's Mental Health

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family at college

This time of year, college and university campuses around the country are being prepared for the start of the academic year. If you’ve got a teen with a mood disorder, college can seem like a scary prospect, especially if this is going to be their first year. Below is a list of things you can do to smooth the transition to college life.

Special thanks to Charlene Gooch, PhD, MFT, who has contributed her experience as a counselor on college campuses to the compilation of this list.

  • Explore counseling and behavioral health resources on campus. College and university campuses will often have a student health center in addition to general counseling resources available to students. Because each institution is different, it is worth sitting down with your son or daughter and educating yourselves on the institute’s resources. If your teen is going to be living on the campus, it is especially important that they know how to access the proper channels in an emergency situation.
  • Investigate medical services and medical information sharing policies. At most institutions, as soon as your new college student is 18, they are considered an adult. For that reason, institutions are met with a legal barrier when it comes to sharing your son or daughter’s medical information with you. Depending on your situation, it may be appropriate to work with the institution’s medical staff to create a waiver of some sort, so that you have access to important information. You may also consider working with your son or daughter’s current clinician on handing off care, especially if their new school is far from home.
  • Send care packages. It’s nice to come home to a surprise once in a while! Small packages containing a favorite snack food or a new book can make a huge difference in your son or daughter’s week. Letting them know you’re thinking of them, but not necessarily making a phone call or a visit, is often a nice way to negotiate the difficult channels of communicating with a college student.
  • Remind yourself and your child of the opportunity in this experience. Even if bipolar disorder or depression has been part of your teen’s adolescence, college is a great time for them to grow and learn about themself. Don’t forget to concentrate on the positive and remember that throughout the next few years, with the right support, your teen is going to blossom into an independent adult who will have benefited greatly from his or her college experience.

Stay tuned for our forthcoming entry about supporting your middle school and high school students as they transition back to school!


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