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Prioritizing Your Teen's Mental Health in College

For many older teens, college is an exciting time. It’s a time for personal growth, exploration, and independence. Teens may be living on their own for the first time, and they are finally making adult decisions. After 13 years of school with very little freedom, they are finally able to decide what they want to study and where they want their lives to go. This can also be a difficult time for some students, especially when it comes to their mental health issues.

Any student may simply be unaware of the best ways to take care of themselves and their mental health. For students who deal with depression and anxiety, this can be particularly challenging.

As a parent of a college student, how can you help your child to ensure they are taking care of themselves? How can you help them to handle the transitional teenage years? In this article, we will discuss several tips. However, before we can do this, we need to understand why more and more college students are dealing with mental health issues.

Why Mental Health Issues Are Becoming More Prominent in College Students

Many college students face extreme academic pressure and competition. Many of them have not yet learned how to best manage their time or cope with stress. This is particularly true for students with rigorous coursework, many extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and many social commitments. Many students can quickly face burnout if they don’t have good coping mechanisms.

Today’s college students also face unprecedented access to technology. As teens with unlimited access to screens at bedtime for possibly the first time, they may have trouble putting down the phone and getting ready for bed. If this negatively impacts their sleep, it can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, fatigue, and a lack of energy. Too much social media use can also lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Another issue facing today’s college students is life post-pandemic. The pandemic itself had a major effect on the mental health of teens and students. For students who already had anxiety or depression, the pandemic may have made them feel more isolated and anxious. Anxiety-prone students returning to college after the pandemic may face additional stress and uncertainty, including concerns about their health, safety, and financial stability.

Taking into consideration the unique set of circumstances today’s college students face, it’s easy to see how they have to handle obstacles no other generation has had to handle. Luckily, there are ways to help your child make the move to college.

How Parents Can Help Their Child With the Transition to College

As a parent, you will play an important role in helping your child navigate the transition to college. You can help them to prioritize their mental health issues. Here are some ideas and suggestions for doing that.

Encourage a Good Sleep Routine

According to the National Sleep Association, young adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep. Here are some tips that you can share with your child to help them get a better night’s sleep:

  • Establish a bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities like listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.
  • Don’t do anything else in your bed except sleep. This will send a signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep when you get in bed.
  • Avoid screens for an hour before bed.
  • Try to be as consistent as possible with the times you wake up and go to bed.
  • Use relaxation techniques before bed.

Ensure your child knows how important sleep is to their brain functioning and ability to do well in school and form positive social relationships.

Make Sure Your Student Knows About Mental Health Resources

Many colleges offer mental health services to students, including crisis intervention, support groups, and counseling. Make sure your child is aware of these resources and how to access them if needed.

Encourage Outdoor Activities and Regular Exercise

Exercise has been shown to improve mental health and help reduce stress. Encourage your child to participate in physical activities that they enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk in nature, taking a yoga class, or joining a dance group.

Stay in Contact With Your Child

While it’s important to give your child independence in college, staying in regular contact can help you stay aware of any issues they may be facing. Make a point to check in with your child regularly and ask open-ended questions.

This is especially important if your child has traveled a decent distance to college. In this case, they may be homesick, and it will be a comfort for them to hear from family and friends back home.

What To Consider if Your Child Has a Preexisting Mental Health Condition

If your child has a preexisting mental health condition, it’s particularly important to prioritize their mental health during this time. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful.

Make Sure Your Child Has a Good Therapist and/or Psychiatrist

If your child is seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist for their mental health condition, it may be necessary to find new providers near their college. Work with your child to identify a new psychiatrist or therapist who can offer ongoing care and support.

It’s important for them to know that it may take a few tries to find the right therapist and/or psychiatrist. A good therapist and/or psychiatrist is a good listener, has some humility, will exercise caution in their prescriptions or recommendations, and thinks about things holistically. It’s also good to keep in mind that not everyone connects with the first mental health professional they find.

Make Sure They Have Access to the Medications They Need

If your child is taking psychiatric medication for their mental health condition, make sure they have access to appropriate prescriptions and/or refills. This may involve working with their psychiatrist and insurance provider to identify a pharmacy near their college.

As college becomes an increasingly demanding and challenging environment for young adults, prioritizing their mental health is crucial. With academic pressure, technological distractions, and the lingering effects of the pandemic, students may face significant stress and uncertainty. As a parent, you can help your child make a successful transition to college by encouraging healthy habits, staying in contact with them, and ensuring they have access to mental health resources. With your support, your child can thrive in college and beyond.


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