Before They Fly The Nest

In the whirlwind of high school graduation events, summer vacations and shopping for dorm supplies, we may neglect an important topic: our high school graduate’s mental health. One of the most proactive steps we can take for our student is to schedule an appointment to see a counselor before they leave for college. If we remove the stigma and familiarize our kids with the benefits, perhaps they will seek counsel when college is stressful.

Holmes and Rahe developed a stress test predictor based on good and bad life events considered Life Change Units. Without any major life events such as divorce, death of family member, or major personal illness, college freshmen easily score 178. Unfortunately, a total of over 150 implies a 50% chance of a major health breakdown within two years.

It’s no wonder that so many college students don’t feel quite themselves, become stressed out, succumb to illness, depression, and loneliness. Before they become adults, 20% of teens will experience depression, but only 30% of those are being treated. Sadly, The Untold Story of Student Suicides cites that one out of twelve students have made a suicide plan and 1.5 out of 100 have attempted it. Causes listed include competitiveness, tuition, acceptance rate, campus crime, and economy.

What parent hasn’t fielded a late-night phone call from an anxious or teary freshman? So, what can we do to help them? The Untold Story link offers eight suggestions, but the most proactive is #7: “Familiarize yourself with the student health and mental health services.” We should do this before they leave for college.

Then later when we’re helping them set up a dorm room, find a bank, campus dentist, and primary care physician, we can also schedule a counseling appointment for October 1st with a provider in their college town. This “tune-up” may also help prevent any need for further appointments. However, if later, they find themselves sinking, they already have a connection and can get an appointment without a long wait.

More than anything, they will know their parents are supportive of counseling. We take our kids to orthodontists, dentists, and pediatricians, but may neglect to acknowledge that the head and heart can hurt. Whatever they learn now, will benefit their future. NIMH estimates that in 2012, 16 million American adults suffered from depression at least once. That is almost 7% of the population. The WHO estimates 350 million worldwide, making depression the leading cause of disability.

My dad hoped he’d never have to deal with mental illness, but after my little brother was born, my mom struggled with depression. So he placed his three kids with three different relatives and took my mom to the hospital. That was a difficult week for all of us. But it only made us stronger. We’re all more open to talking about and receiving counseling, and we’re healthier because we know how to take care of ourselves. When I see someone living under a grey cloud, I’m quick to point out that what they are experiencing is not permanent and I encourage them to go to a good counselor.

Being reactive is important, but proactive is even better. The Untold Story also encourages parents to stay in touch, chat on the phone, IM, or Skype, send care packages and visit occasionally. It also suggests we as parents be a calming voice, encourage our kids to sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise, try destressing activities, and to be sensitive to the signs of stress.

Prepare now to help smooth your high school graduate’s transition. When they’re miles away and all you have is Facebook, it’s nice to know they have someone to talk to face to face.

Ann Marie Stewart (NOVA MomsHOOpray – Class of 2019/2021) Related articles:  *Mental Health In College: What Parents Need To Know   *Help Your College Student Combat a Major Danger: Depression   *College Depression: What Parents Need To Know  *Why I See a Counselor

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