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  • Dr. Shane Owens

14 signs of mental health trouble for your college kid

Determining whether your college kid needs help can be really, really hard. Trouble is indicated by changes and you are paying what likely seems too much to change your kid into a productive, healthy member of society. Some of the things that may completely stun you—including things that might make you think you deserve a tuition refund—are entirely normal. Others seem like no big deal but are signs of real distress. Telling the difference is difficult for many parents. Most kids will get through college without major mental health difficulties, but the typical onset of many common problems is during traditional college age. Quick and effective diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to avoid serious and lasting problems. Parents of kids who live on campus will have to be good detectives to catch on to some of these. Asking directly can be effective, if you have grown that kind of relationship with your kid. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Not answering texts or calls

  • Having no or few new friends

  • Not attending classes

  • Not talking about how things are going

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Changes in substance use

  • Changes in diet or weight

  • Physical complaints or illnesses

  • Having difficulty with her roommate

  • Talking about being or appearing sad or angry

  • Talking about being or appearing nervous or afraid

  • Talking about being or appearing lonely

  • Hearing others express concern for her

  • If living on campus, preoccupation with home, talking a lot about wanting to be home, or talking about not returning to campus after a break

Before encouraging your kid to get help:

  1. Know that no one of these is usually a cause for concern. The more of them you observe, the more concerned you should be.

  2. Judge all of these against what is normal for your kid.

  3. Know the contact information for mental health services on- and off-campus. Being able to provide this quickly can encourage appropriate help-seeking.

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