College Students’ Mental Health Can Be a Concern
And summer's a good time for parents to address this. Advice from Rogers Behavioral Health.
For many parents, having their college-aged sons and daughters home for the summer brings both ups and downs. It can be tremendously exciting to see how young adults have grown academically, physically and emotionally. But reconnecting over the summer can sometimes reveal mental health challenges that may have started during the school year or in the transition to the new summer routine.
Mental health resources at most universities are minimal, and summer can be a great time for parents to help young adults get the help they might need. Most university counseling centers are working with limited resources. According to a recent article in Time magazine, the average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students. The International Association of Counseling Services recommends one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.
Summer provides a great opportunity for college students to focus on their mental health when demands on their time may be lighter, but it often means parents need to be aware and proactive. Some of the biggest mental health issues college students struggle with are depression, anxiety, safety concerns including suicide, and substance abuse. These issues may be hard for parents to spot, especially if their student has been away for most of the year.
“I recommend looking at the overall pattern of behavior,” says Dr. Rachel Leonard, a clinical supervisor at Rogers Behavioral Health. “For example, while many young adults home for the summer enjoy sleeping in, if your child sleeps in but is able to get to work on time or engage with friends or hobbies, it’s likely not an issue. If, however, your young adult sleeps in for much of the day, avoids engaging with other people, and also appears to be down or irritable much of the time, then this is cause for concern.”
When someone is struggling with depression, they often decrease engagement in activities they used to participate in and enjoy. One warning sign for parents is seeing that kind of disengagement. They may also observe increases in other more solitary and sedentary activities, such as sleeping, playing video games, watching TV or movies or reading. College students may struggle with perfectionism about their academic performance, which can lead to excessive focus on academics at the expense of healthy leisure and social activities.
“Is there an activity you could regularly do with your young adult?” asks Dr. Leonard. “Even if it’s something that may not take much time, such as a brief walk after dinner, these can be great opportunities for your son or daughter to open up to you.”
Maintaining a balance and some degree of routine can be beneficial. Although summer is a great time for relaxing, it’s also an optimal time to engage in a variety of activities and maintain some structure. Finding balance is key, and it’s important to approach these strategies with two-sided conversations rather than strict requirements. Young adults are exactly that — adults — so considering these strategies in the context of open conversations may be especially helpful.
Rogers Behavioral Health provides treatment ranging from intensive outpatient treatment programs, which typically provide 12 hours of programming per week, to residential treatment programs, where the individual lives at the treatment facility for several weeks to a few months.
“Significant amounts of progress can often be made in a relatively short period of time and can make weekly therapy back at college more manageable,” says Dr. Leonard.
Some behaviors such as suicidal thoughts or actions indicate a need for immediate intervention, potentially including an inpatient stay — another option at Rogers.
Rogers Behavioral Health is here to help, with locations in Brown Deer, West Allis, Kenosha, Oconomowoc, and more. For more information, visit rogersbh.org or call 800-767-441.