College and mental health

I read an article this week about college students’ declining mental health and how their schools are responding, and it reinforced my belief that parents and others can do a much better job preparing their kids for the mental and emotional challenges of adulthood.

Here are some stats from the article:

  • Anxiety and depression are the top concern for students seeking counseling services.
  • Self-harm has increased for the seventh year in a row.
  • 57 percent of directors of college¬†counseling services said the severity of student mental health concerns increased between 2015 and 2016.
  • 9.1 percent of college students reported being diagnosed in the last year with a psychiatric condition.
  • 24 percent of students reported that anxiety affected their academic performance, leading to a lower grade on an exam or project or for the entire course, or receiving an incomplete or dropping the course completely.
  • Just 64 percent of colleges offer on-campus psychiatric services (though that number is increasing).
  • The majority of campuses don’t have enough psychiatric services to meet students’ needs.
  • Only 50 percent of students who consider seeking professional help for mental health issues follow through.

The experts in the article cite social media use and overprotective parenting as two significant contributors to the problem.

Social media can make it appear that no one else is having a hard time, making those who are struggling feel isolated and lonely. There’s pressure, too, to make it look like you’re living an ideal life.

And parents are setting kids up for a difficult transition by protecting them from real-world consequences to an unhealthy degree. The article talks about a lack of resilience in today’s college students, with kids unable to cope with disappointment, manage stress, or deal with change.

Here are some things parents can do at any stage to set kids up for better mental health in college:

  • Teach them they should get help with mental health if they need it.
  • Let them struggle and fail throughout their growing up years!
  • Help them feel like they have worth independent of their successes and failures.
  • Encourage life-long healthy habits like good sleep, healthy eating, and exercise.
  • Teach them problem solving strategies.
  • Teach them healthy ways to deal with stress, like meditation, gratitude, volunteer service, and perspective.
  • Model resiliency by acknowledging your own mistakes and talking about how you are going to be better.
  • Focus more on encouraging their efforts than on praising their successes.

It’s natural to want to swoop in and fix things for our kids when something hard is happening, but our kids will be much better off if we hold strong and let them learn. More support and services in higher education are crucial, but so is stronger parenting.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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