As a parent, your child's well-being is always at the forefront of your mind. So when they aren't doing well, you're usually the first to notice. From small shifts in their attitude to dodging phone calls, you’re able to spot unusual behavior in your child like an emotional metal detector. However, just because you recognize irregular behavior doesn't mean it's simple to determine the cause. According to Dr. Joel Ingersoll, friend and mental health professional, that's why it's important to routinely check-in on the mental health of your student.
"Mental health is crucial to college student success, yet it’s something that can be difficult to navigate as parents. Prioritizing mental health has huge implications on academic success, physical health, social life, personal and career development— all of which are part of maximizing an investment in a fulfilling college experience."
As the President and Founder of Take On College, Dr. Joel helps college and high school students develop college adjustment and career success skills. Additionally, he helps their parents become more effective and supportive collaborators. In the past 15 years, Dr. Joel has empowered thousands of students to prioritize their physical and psychological health and maximize their college potential.
Top Mental Health Challenges for College Students
Be mindful that each challenge has a range of severity and that they may pair with other challenges. For example, it is common for depression and anxiety to occur together or for substance use to increase symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Here are the top 5 mental health challenges that college students are facing:
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Practical Ways to Support Your College Student
Although your student is away at college, you can still actively support their mental health. Be aware of red flags and warning signs that your student is struggling. According to Dr. Joel, some of these warning signs that parents may observe include: shift in mood, weight loss or gain, change in academic performance, sleep habits, social media posts, increase in alcohol or other drug use, reports from friends, social withdraw and isolation. Parents should take note of essentially any change in baseline behavior or what is "normal" for your child.
Next time you identify irregular behavior in your student, try one of these practical support tips from Dr. Joel:
Avoid "advising" and practice listening to your child's unique experience. They want to be understood.
Encourage your student to ask for academic help early in the semester. Many students wait until November and April (late in the semesters when psychological challenges have impacted academic performance).
Coach your child to be a confident problem solver by encouraging them to generate options to address their challenges (example: "Tell me about what campus resources are available to you").
Be a great role model and prioritize your own psychological health, it's always beneficial for kids to observe their parents embracing a healthy lifestyle.
Get comfortable using mental health language. Words like depression and suicide often generate parent anxiety, especially when their child acknowledges these feelings and thoughts. Knowing that their parents are comfortable with those terms provides a sense of relief.
When looking at prospective colleges, make a list of the psychological services they offer. This is especially important for parents who have a college-bound high school student in counseling and anticipate the need for ongoing counseling in college.
For more information on mental health for college students, visit:
the college counseling/psychological services website on your child's campus
Support your student from afar.
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