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  • Dr. Shane Owens

Mental health and the college-bound kid

‘tis the season to prepare for campus life.

For many, the move will go smoothly. For others, it might mean coping with an existing or newly-emerging mental illness.

College is not only a time for growth and discovery, it is also the time during which many common mental health problems start. You have to talk to your kid about his mental health before he leaves for school.

This conversation must include:

A frank discussion of the family’s medical and mental health history.

It’s very likely that you have completed a family health history form by now. You may have shared with him that his great uncle Larry died of heart disease. But many forms leave out specific questions about mental health. And many families do not answer those questions because such things are private or seem irrelevant.

They are not.

Family history goes a long way to determining what may emerge during the college years. It’s also important for him to know the whole story should he need help.

It’s understandable that this talk may be hard to have. Rest assured: any kid who is truly ready to live on campus is also ready to hear what you have to say. And talking openly about your family’s issues will help him to talk about mental health if the time comes.

This vital part of the mental health discussion will set the stage for clear, open, and supportive communication about these issues as they arise.

Who to talk to about not feeling well.

Many, but not all, campuses have mental health services available. Your kid should know the contact information for those services as well as he knows the number for campus security or the best (ok, cheapest) 24-hour pizza delivery place. You should know that number, too.

If there are only off-campus services, you and he should know how to reach those.

You are there to listen non-judgmentally and openly to him about how he’s feeling.

First, prepare yourself for that to be true.

Then, let him know that his distance from you will not diminish how much you care about him. Remind him of times you were there for him as he dealt with difficult thoughts and feelings. Reassure him your support for him will not change.

For most kids, mental health issues will not arise. Whether they do or not, his experience will be enriched by knowing that there are places on and close to campus and at home where he can go if they do.

For help with preparing for the move to campus or with adjustment to campus life, contact me.

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