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As students prepare to go to college, they’re likely excited about their independence, the upcoming academic challenges, and the prospect of new friendships. At the same time, there could be anxiety or concern about adapting to unfamiliar environments. According to the American Psychological Association, during the 2020-2021 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem.
The weight of academic expectations, social adjustments, and the need to establish a sense of belonging all converge to underscore the importance of mental health resources. Rachel Comerford and Tina McCosky, leaders from Macmillan Learning’s Employee Resource Groups AVID@ML (Awareness of Visible & Invisible Disabilities ) & the Village@ML (Parent and Caregivers) respectively, share some tips about how to support students’ mental health.
By Tina McCosky (Village@ML) and Rachel Comerford (AVID@ML)
College life can be both fulfilling and challenging, particularly for new students. With the wide range of activities, assignments, classes, and opportunities available it can be easy to become overwhelmed or to neglect one's mental health. But like your physical health, mental health is integral for your well-being for a number of reasons.
- Academic Success: Mental health plays a crucial role in academic success. When someone is emotionally well, they are better able to focus, retain information, and manage their coursework effectively.
- Personal Growth: College is a time of personal growth and self-discovery. Addressing mental health can enhance this process, allowing students to build resilience, cope with challenges, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Relationships: Healthy relationships are essential to the college experience. Taking care of mental health ensures that students can form meaningful connections and communicate effectively with peers, professors, and staff.
Both students and their guardians can play a role in ensuring that mental health remains a priority. Due to all the moving pieces and emotions involved with sending a child off to college, parents may prefer to be all business when it comes to college planning: planning move-in, buying dorm stuff, and asking teens many questions about their university portal and other resources. Students are already stressed about these things and more. They are moving from the safe space they’ve always known to a completely unknown environment, and even though they may be taller than their parents, they are anxious, excited, and likely feeling unsettled.
- Research university website. All colleges have staff dedicated to mental health now. This is a huge improvement over the past where mental health was not always a priority. Start by searching for the "Counseling Services" or "Mental Health Services" section.
- Keep close contact with parents and other close friends and family members in the weeks before moving to college. Enjoy the free time, take time to just hang out, play games, talk to each other about things non-college, non-future planning. This will reduce stress and help both you and your parents (it’s a big transition for parents too!).
- Start Small. If talking to a counselor seems intimidating, you can begin by attending workshops or support groups. These can provide valuable insights and strategies for managing stress and improving your mental well-being.
- Self-Care. Incorporate self-care into your routine. Engage in activities that bring you joy whether it's exercising, reading, creating art, or spending time with friends. Prioritizing self-care can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Build a Support Network. Connect with peers, roommates, professors, and advisors. They can help provide emotional support and guidance.
Parents and Guardians
- Give your teen the space they need to process. Parents may find themselves needing to hold their thoughts, or just talk privately about them with a partner or other parent friends going through this same transition, so that they don’t add more stress to their teen. Let your teen know they can talk to you whenever and you will be there to listen to them. If they know you’ll listen, they’ll ask for guidance when they need it. Similarly, encourage your teen to become comfortable with discomfort, analyze things their way, make mistakes, and trust that you are there for them, always. Their safe space won’t necessarily be in close proximity, but cell phones offer safety and virtual hugs at a fingertip’s reach.
- Our benefits provider is good at helping locate a counselor in specific zip codes. Some students feel a bit uncomfortable seeking a counselor at their university. Despite all the strides we’ve made, there is still hesitation on how they’ll be perceived or whether they’ll be impacted negatively by seeking help.
- Normalize Seeking Help. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Many students face similar challenges, and seeking support is a proactive step towards personal growth and well-being. Talk to your kids early and often about how and why to seek mental health assistance.
Mental health issues can be a reality for many of today’s college students, and there’s an ongoing need to first recognize the issue and then provide increased support and resources to address them. Students, their parents and even the college community each have a role to play in supporting this important moment in time for the teens.