Easing the Transition: How to Help Your College-Bound Child Cope with Anxiety From Afar
With seniors graduating high school all across the nation this month, many parents (and kids!) are starting to face the reality of college as that first day on campus gets closer and closer. This nervous yet excited feeling is common and to be expected. But for the parent of a child who suffers from anxiety or depression, the prospect of being away from home for the first time can be terrifying.
As a parent, you’re probably one part excited for your child’s endeavor and 100 parts terrified that they won’t be able to cope with the added pressures of college on top of their mental illness. First, know you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is the #1 concern among college students (41 percent), followed by depression (36 percent) and relationship problems (35 percent). Twenty-four percent of college students take psychotropic medication for their anxiety and depression.
But even for those who are on medication, the concern about keeping up that routine can further worry parents. You likely have been the main advocate for your child up until this point, taking them to the doctor or therapist, refilling their prescriptions, reminding them to take their pills, and dealing with the fallout of bad days as you act as therapist yourself.
Now, you’re understandably worried that your child won’t be as diligent in maintaining his or her routine, what with all the added pressures of school work and complicated social lives. College and its lack of supervision can give students easy access to alcohol and drugs. Plus, it’s easier to fall through the cracks when you’re one little student out of thousands. Even students who have demonstrated a strong ability to function under pressure may really feel the effects of such a new and demanding environment.
Keeping an Open Mind
Of course, this isn’t to scare you away from sending your kid to college! Most kids with mental illness can and should attend college. It will likely do far more good for them than bad. Given the high stakes, though, parents should understand the potential dangers of their child’s safety while away from home for the first time.
About 40 million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, with 75 percent of them experiencing their first anxiety episode by the age of 22.
That loss of control you feel right know is rooted in some reality. Remember, now that your child is 18, he or she is protected by privacy laws that govern the dissemination of medical information. You can no longer pick up the phone and call your child’s guidance counselor or chat with their therapist after a session for advice and specifics.
Your child is covered under the same privacy laws you are, such as those governing health: HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) as well as those governing academic information: FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). These laws can act as roadblocks for monitoring your adult child’s mental, physical and academic well-being. If your child becomes withdrawn or refuses to discuss mental health issues with you, you may understandably feel shut out, with little parental rights left.
There are proactive steps you can take to prepare for this, such as asking your child to sign a release that authorizes healthcare providers and college administrators to share their private medical and academic information with you. Your teen can be put at ease knowing they can specify which details they want shared, such as the fact that they are attending therapy sessions, as well as what they don’t, such as the contents of those sessions.
Know the policies and procedures of your child’s college and corresponding student health centers. Meet with the Dean of Students beforehand as well as therapists working within the on-campus counseling center. Check out the law enforcement office and disability office, too, to get your face out there and let people know you’re a concerned parent. They’ll be more likely to remember you and keep an eye out for potential problems. Provide your contact information in case of emergency.
Scope out local mental health professionals and nearby hospital emergency departments that offer psychological or substance abuse services. Keep talking with your child regularly to keep lines of communication open, offering your support and encouragement. Talk about the balance of privacy and access, and how you both feel about where those lines should be drawn.
College is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding and enlightening times of a person’s life. Take part in that excitement and joy for your child, but keep one eye open for the pronounced dangers that come when college mixes with mental health conditions.
Contact Midwest Psychological Services
To learn more about treatment for anxiety and depression for you or your college student, please contact us at (715) 381-1980 or fill out our online form.