Lists. Lists. Lists. And more lists!
The summer before your child leaves for their freshman year of college, you will find most of your time is spent making lists.
There are lists of all the questions you want to ask at parent orientation.
There are lists of financial aid forms to complete, and lists of student organizations they may want to check out when they get there.
And don’t even get me started on the lists of all the STUFF you have to buy that they for their dorm room. Who knew there were 150 types of mattress pads?
But there’s one college readiness list that you need to write this summer that may be the most important list you ever write. I’m talking about a “mental health checklist,” and if you’ve never thought about making this kind of college preparedness list don’t fret, because I’ve put one together for you.
Most college parents do a fine job of preparing their new freshman to go away, but unfortunately they overlook something mental health professionals call “a check up from the neck up.”
This means while packing the physical items and taking care of the physical needs your new student requires, we forget to “check up on” and make a plan for their mental health while they’re away. Having a solid plan in place for when and if your student requires mental health counseling is the best way to ensure they find it quickly, easily, and before a real crisis ensues.
This is why I’m partnering with Med-IQ to help generate awareness around depression among teens and young adults, helping to dismantle any stigmas around it, and better educate parents. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.
First things first, depending on where your student is attending college, not every one of these is going to be applicable to them, nor will all of these service be available to them. And if they’re not, or you’re unsure if they are, bring this list with you to parent orientation and see if a student services representative can assist you with the information you’re seeking. (Or even better, encourage your college student do that on their own, in an attempt to get them to begin to take control of their personal mental health.)
1. Where is the campus mental health/counseling center located?
You and your student need to find out exactly where this building is located on campus, and when they’re open for walk-in patients. And I mean exactly where and when, because should they need to get there in the middle of a crisis, they may not be able to read a campus map, find a phone number, or research operating hours. In addition, if the college has a phone-in counseling hotline option, where a student needing immediate help can reach a therapist by phone, get that phone number and hours of operation, and program all of that into their phone. Again, in a crisis nobody wants to be looking for phone numbers.
2. What services exactly does the campus mental health/counseling center offer?
Now that you know where it is, what are they able to do to help your student when they need services? This can and will vary by campus, so visit their website during the summer and go over with your student what they can help with, and if they will need an appointment to be seen or have walk-in hours. Also, find out if they have any type of support groups or group therapy options available, and what is required to join. (Will they need to be seen first?) For example, these are the group therapy options offered by at Florida State University’s Student Mental Health Center.
3. Where do I get medications** filled?
Do not even think about sending your kid away without having a pharmacy in their college town already picked out. Again, kids in a mental health crisis, or really when any type of illness happens mental or physical, trying to figure out where they can get meds filled last minute is a major inconvenience. Some campuses have an on site pharmacy within their health center, but most will have some type of chain drug store within walking distance of campus. Program that phone number in their phone, so if they’re at an urgent care center, they can quickly tell the doctor where to send scrips. **If your student is currently taking a medicine that has been classified as a controlled substance (this varies by state, so check with your home pharmacist and/or physician before leaving for college, and FYI ADHD meds are considered controlled substances in some states) then they may only be able to receive a 30 day supply at one time. They may also be required to have a doctor’s office visit every 30 days to refill their scrips, so if that is the case, you may need to acquire a physician for your student that is located near campus. Keep in mind if they don’t have a car, the issue of getting to off campus doctor’s appointments will need to be addressed.
Finally, there a few other things that you and your future freshman should talk about before they leave.
Try to encourage them to be able to recognize the difference between a bad day and a bad mood, versus a serious mental health concern. College mental health centers are referring to this as resilience building or distress tolerance, and are creating programs to help students differentiate between small and insignificant problems and large and very serious emotional concerns. This means situations like a fight with a roommate, a failed pop quiz, or a breakup with a boyfriend can all certainly contribute to a dark mood, but do they need to be addressed by a therapist? Or would a long phone call to mom or dad help that student process the situation more clearly and calmly?
Make sure to also discuss the variety of physical symptoms that can appear that are directly related to emotional stressors, and vice versa. Is your student feeling suddenly physically ill? Headaches or upset stomachs? Do they have loss of appetite? Has their sleeping been interrupted and insufficient? (More than what normal college kids endure.) Have they been going through a tough emotional time and now it is causing physical illness? They need to be able to notice that, and that’s the when it’s time to visit the mental health/counseling center. And in the same way, have they had a severe head cold for weeks and now it’s making them feel depressed? Time to go the health center and check to see if it’s more than a cold.
Having a plan set in place before a crisis happens (and it will, trust me) is the smartest thing you can do as parent and student, so do it before they leave. It will help reduce everyone’s stress in the end!
Can you help me with something?
You can help out mental health professionals who work with teens and college aged students by taking this survey. It only takes 15 minutes. Promise! DO NOT WORRY, no information will be collected about you.
Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-aged child, which will help us develop future educational initiatives.
Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.
**I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own. *sponsored content.