One in four college students have a diagnosable mental illness
40% do not seek help
80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities
50% have become so anxious that they struggled in school
"Mom, a student died Friday" she told me yesterday, "it was cardiac arrest, he was 20 and it was at a big event and lots of people saw it." Dammit...my heart sank. As a therapist who counsels a lot of young adults, I know that this experience is going to send waves of grief, traumatic memories and shock through the kids who knew this student and were at the event.
Last semester, my daughter experienced deep heartache after a breakup. For many days after, I woke up at 3 am worried for my daughter, who was managing her intense feelings the best way she knew how, messy. As a parent, I know it is so difficult to watch our children suffer and feel powerless to fix it.
Suffering in college is inevitable, and it is a necessary ingredient of the alchemy that transforms adolescents into responsible adults. Negative emotions, drunkenness, being away from home for the first time, organizing a new schedule, intake of adequate nutrition, meeting a new friend group, figuring out sex and safety, getting oriented to a new city and constant stimulation from never being alone are just a few of the pressures on your child. They are going to handle things in a way that will cause you worry because you probably forgot that you were once an amateur too. What is a parent to do? Below, I've combined the best tried and true suggestions to help you and your child manage the growing pains of college life.
What can you do?
- Ask! Ask you child how they are feeling, sleeping, and functioning. Ask your child how they are feeling on a regular basis and shut up until they answer. Fine/Good is not a feeling. If you need help understanding feelings, here is a great article.
Show some Empathy and Support. I am sure you a are a master of handling breakups and sadness, and you no longer get shit faced off cheap beer and do regrettable things, but your child isn't there yet. They will need years more of brain growth, the front part that is responsible for making "good decisions" isn't even done growing until age 25, and they will need years of life experiences to shape them into the calm, mature, wise person you know they are capable of becoming. To show empathy means you avoid criticism and show support. Verbal support sounds like this: Wow, that IS a hard situation, Your doing a great job, I am so proud of you! Other ways to support your kid include TEXTING them positive messages and funny memes. Humor and positivity works, let the teachers and bosses be the critical ones.
Reach Out to their closest new college friend. If you have concerns about your child, get to know at least one of their close friends who are at college with them, friend request them on Facebook, get their cell and email number. It is just in case.
- Build Up Outside Support. Encourage your kid to go to the on campus Counseling Center if they tell you that they aren't sleeping enough or are sleeping too much, are feeling overwhelmed, are drinking excessively, missing class, or if their friends are concerned. Most college campuses have Counseling Centers as a free service to students and some even have relaxation centers and pet therapy to help your child manage stress. Another option is to find a local outpatient therapist in the city where your child is going to college. Psychology today's website has a great therapist finder for any zip-code, here is a link. if your child is over 18, they will most likely need to call and set up their own appointment, just make sure they have their insurance card. TalkSpace offers online, text, cyber, teleporting (jk) so if your kid can't leave their whatever, you know they have their smart phone. Nowadays, clients can do therapy from their home on their smartphones.
Send Care Packages with self care, relaxation and happy things to your kid. Surprises give us a boost of dopamine, and dopamine feels good. Having cool new things to use for self care can remind us to do self care. Stress relief tools, healthy snacks, aromatherapy for their dorms, herbal teas, positive messages of support are all good ideas for a care package. Calm Blankets will send monthly or quarterly self care Mood Boost Boxes to your kiddo if you register here.
Handle Your Own Shit. You must manage your own anxiety while your child is away. You are the parent and need to appear to be more confident, together and relaxed than your kid so that your child can at least not feel additionally stressed out that you are falling apart because they left you. Get a hobby, friends, a therapist but please, don't expect your child to comfort or console you. If you need a therapist to help you with the transition, Forward Counseling, my practice, would be happy to help.