Keep Your Students’ Mental Health in Mind

As the kindergarteners have anxiously waited and leapt onto the school bus for the beginning of new adventures, the teenagers hesitantly sulked their way into the classroom, while the seniors proudly marched the hallways as new king and queen bees of the school. While school is back in session for most of the local schools, one group of students tend to get overshadowed after going away to school: college students.

College students face a range of emotions when going off to college; the anxiety of beginning a new change in life, the excitement of meeting new people and joining new clubs, the apprehension of leaving home for the first time and the stress of balancing schoolwork and a social life. Because it is such a defining time of change for new college students, health problems tend to get overlooked as they move away.

Nearly 20 percent of college students get diagnosed or treated for a mental health problem, with nine percent having seriously considered suicide in the past year. This is why it is imperative for parents and family members to keep in touch with college students to make sure they are doing well mentally. College students also need to continue maintaining good health habits while they are away.

Students, you are about to embark on a big change outside of your comfort zone – living on your own for the first time and moving away from family and friends. Over the course of your college career, there will be times when you get caught up in the stress of schoolwork, and become anxious over societal situations. Although students tend to think that if you seek help you are “weak,” that is not the case. Do not be afraid to seek medical help. By reaching out for help, you are showing you can take responsibility for your own problems. Most universities are ready and willing to help you by providing free counseling services.

Although you are away from home, make sure you continue taking care of your own health. There are the occasional all-nighters to study for finals or late night studying, but it is important to get eight to ten hours of sleep each night. In addition, make sure you make time to exercise and eat healthy. Continue to schedule a yearly physical examination or checkup with your doctor. Stress is inevitable at college, and each student has to figure out what works best to handle stress. Whether you take a yoga or exercise class, write in a daily journal, take a hot bath or talk to a friend or family member, find out what works best for you.

Parents and family members, take time to keep in touch with your children. From the outside looking in, college students seem to be carefree and doing well; however, that is not always the case. Maintain contact with your students and be proactive if you notice them acting differently. Call your son or daughter at least once per week to check up on his or her wellbeing. Listen and observe if they have a sudden change in behavior or become withdrawn socially from other things they normally enjoy. By maintaining an open relationship with the student, he or she will be more likely to talk to you if they have an issue. If you think your college student is becoming mentally unstable or depressed, do not be afraid to take action or seek further medical help. Also, visiting the student can also help improve the student’s mood and help you to better gauge their mental health.  

While college is a new and exciting change for students, remember to keep their health and mental wellbeing in mind!

*The writer is Dr. Frederick Simpson, M.D. - Chief Medical Officer, Wilson Health