How you can support your college student’s mental health

August 22, 2017 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
mental health

The number of college students living with mental health issues has grown substantially in recent years. A report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found that over a five-year period, data gathered from 139 U.S. colleges and universities showed a 30% increase in the use of on-campus counseling services compared to enrollment growth of only 5%. The majority of these students sought help with anxiety and depression. Other research has estimated that one in five college students is living with some type of mental health issue, but college-aged young adults have the lowest rate for seeking help.

If your child is working to manage a mental health issue while away at college, it’s important for him or her and for you to be aware of the support and resources available and how to access them before a crisis arises. These steps can help your child have a plan and resources in place from the first day on campus:

  • Make a connection with the college or university health center and counseling resources: Before college starts, you and your child should arrange to meet with a provider at the college health center and a member of the counseling staff to learn what services are available. Find out what types of counselors are available (social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists), how often a student can see a counselor, if there’s a wait list to get a counseling appointment, and what fees, if any, are required. Ask what emergency services are available if your child has problem at night or on the weekend.
  • Find out how medication is managed. If your child takes medication for his or her condition, ask if there’s a staff psychiatrist who will manage the prescriptions and whether prescriptions are filled through health services or if your child will need to get prescriptions filled off campus.
  • Get a local physician for your child. Most on-campus counseling services offer a limited number of visits with a mental health counselor per semester or year. If your child needs on-going care or rapid access to a mental health professional if his or her condition becomes harder to manage with the added stresses and demands of college, it can be helpful to have a local psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist who is familiar with your child’s case and treatment plan. You can find a local mental health provider through your health insurance network, ask for a recommendation from the college counseling staff, or connect with a mental health specialist with the help of a health advisor.
  • Ensure your child’s medical records can be accessed quickly. A secure, online curated medical record provides any physician or mental health professional who treats your child with his or her comprehensive medical record, which can be especially important in an emergency. Before your children leave for college, they should review their medical records with their doctors to make sure the information is accurate and up to date.
  • Take advantage of online resources. There are a growing number of online resources that may be helpful for college students dealing with mental health issues. JED offers information on mental health, suicide prevention, and how to find help in a crisis. Half of Us and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide links to mental health resources and information about a range of mental health issues.
  • Learn what information can be shared with you about your child’s mental health. Once your child is legally an adult (age 18 in most states and age 19 in two states) you no longer have access to their medical information without your child’s permission. To make sure you’re able to participate in important medical decisions, ask your children to complete a HIPAA release or authorization. They can indicate what types of information they will and won’t allow to be shared with you.
  • Stay in touch. Even though college is a time when your children are learning to be more independent and self-sufficient, if your child is living with a mental health issue it’s helpful for you to regularly stay in touch. Parents are often able to spot potential problems and offer support and suggestions that can help their children manage their condition better.
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