Do you know how many students will be registering for college this year? Have you thought about it..? Take a wild guess.
Close to 4 million…! Can you imagine the diversity in that number? That’s more than the population of Los Angeles!
Serious Challenges for an Adolescent or Young Adult
In addition to the size of this group, there are also stressors this LA-sized group of people is facing for the first time in their lives.
Their first time to leave home, their first time to enter the workforce, their first time to be accountable to strangers on their own, while taking much harder classes than they’ve taken before.
They’re moving to a new place full of strangers, among whom they’ll hope to find friends.
Plus unlimited access to alcohol and illicit substances. Easy access to sex. And the responsibility to recognize within themselves signs of health changes…including mental health.
It’s a tall order. And every college and university is packed with a whole crowd of them each and every semester.
Going to College with Anxiety or Depression
If your teen – who’s becoming an adult – has already been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, you’re a step ahead in one sense. You and your child have faced the illness, and hopefully, she has adjusted to her medications. It’s much easier for a teen to go through that process at home than in another city, away from the comfort and understanding of her family.
You still need to devise a plan to help her maintain stability and go for help when the stability changes.
So it’s vital to her success that you ask her psychiatrist and therapist if they offer telepsychiatry so that they can follow her when she’s at school. If not, ask them for referrals in the area or contact the counseling office for therapists and psychiatrists near campus or in the area.
Then make calls and explore. If you can establish a connection with the professionals your son or daughter could see in case of difficulty, it will make it much easier for her to go for help if symptoms rear their ugly head.
Keep some things in mind:
1. She’s likely to make some mistakes… Don’t fix them. Listen and encourage her to think through some solutions.
2. Be sure she knows where to go to fill prescriptions.
3. Check on her regularly. Without hammering her with “mental health” questions, find ways to get updates on red flag areas. Clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner says to watch the “trilogy of health”, i.e., sleeping patterns, eating, and energy. If any of these are out of whack, dig deeper.
Then, if something’s not right, remind her of the psychiatrist and therapist you found, and encourage her to make an appointment. If she can’t seem to do that due to anxiety, phobias, or depressive symptoms, you may need to intervene and help her seek treatment.
“My Son’s Resilient and a High Achiever. He’ll Be Fine.”
Famous last words… so to speak. What if your child seems resilient and confident about studies, friends, his life while he’s in high school…?
Don’t let yourself fall into la la land, and tell yourself no news is good news. That’s just not true.
l. Putting your head in the sand about potential mental health symptoms when your kid goes to college, is as silly as sunbathing on top of a travel trailer while watching an approaching tornado fifty yards away. Feeling confident isn’t going to determine the future.
What’s the saying…? Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Learn about anxiety and depression just as you have learned about meningitis, pneumonia, and the flu.
2. Be prepared to hear your son say he’s overwhelmed during semester finals. Listen, and offer to help. Sometimes that’s all they need to hear… but if he wants to keep talking, welcome it.
3. Make sure your kids know it’s completely acceptable to ask for help.
Here are some tips for conversations to help your teen communicate his feelings and learn psychiatric symptoms:
- I’m so sorry you’re feeling like this. Do you have any thoughts about why?
- It sounds to me like you don’t want to go to class. Why do you think that is?
- What do you think is going on…?
- How can I help…?
- I’ve noticed so and so…, how do you feel about it?
Questions like this tend to open conversation while helping him figure out for himself what’s going on.
Start these conversations when your kids are young…so that by adolescence they’ll be building some skill to recognize problems – as well as solutions – themselves. This gives them equipment to manage their emotions and fears when they’re on their own.
Will Your Child Suffer Mental Health Symptoms in the Future?
Let’s open up communication with kids about their mental health…to prepare them for college and the future. Let’s learn psychiatric symptoms with teens, and build a family awareness together. It’s empowering, for you and for them.
There is no way to predict the responses your child will have as he enters – and forges through – adulthood. If he seems resilient now, that’s a great start. The child that appears to be the most resilient may continue on as a successful Unsinkable Molly Brown. Or he may find the harder he works, the more overwhelming life seems to become for him.
Especially if he suffers physical injury or severe emotional setbacks. Your resilient 13-year-old can become a burdened 28-year-old…or a disabled 34-year-old..if at some point he needs help and doesn’t get the help he needs.
Clearly, students need to be having conversations with their parents earlier. Mood disorders or learning disabilities need to be identified when they’re as young as possible. Then treatment can be in place before college is considered.
Further, if kids have struggled through middle school and high school with social anxiety, that anxiety may spread to more areas of life through increased pressure and stress.
Social anxiety combined with depression may morph to agoraphobia (anxiety in situations where you perceive the environment to be unsafe with no easy way to get away) given the requisite stressors. And agoraphobia can seriously interrupt a student’s progress for the semester.
Many parents who don’t worry about their high-achieving child have been shocked and felt helpless when he breaks under the pressure. That’s not to say you should be worrying…but rather proactively preparing, just in case.
When To Educate Yourself and Your Kids about Mental Wellbeing
Now, think about this: What if parents started the conversation when their kids are 11 or 12, and kept an ongoing dialogue about how things affect their child? What if a child grew into adolescence informed, so she could recognize suffering in her friends or herself?
What if she had learned to see psychiatric symptoms through the empathetic view of her family, rather than just as a list she and friends snicker about in health class?
Just as we parents talk to our children about sexuality, what if we talked to them about mental health? What if we learned together about signs and symptoms, and with that learning, also learned compassion…?
What if we started now, no matter what their age?
So what do you say about mental health if you’ve never discussed it before with your 17-year-old?
Maybe something like…”I’ve been reading a lot, and realize there’s a lot I don’t know about anxiety and depression. But I’m learning these disorders can happen to anyone…do you know anyone who suffers from something like this? panic attacks? social anxiety? mood swings?
Or if you see symptoms in your teen, maybe lay safety groundwork…” If I promise to not freak out, would you tell me how you’re feeling about things these days?”
The dialogue will see you through, and will usher them, into college safely and with confidence. And in the long term — through clear and transparent communication. Through empathy and respect for themselves and others.
Teaching Your Child to Take Care of Her Mental Health
By fostering an atmosphere of understanding and openness in your home, you can proactively learn – with your children – what mental and emotional well-being looks like. And how to recognize warning signs of illness.
You teach your children about sex. You teach them about drugs. Teach them about mental health, as well.
When your child has grown into a broad comprehension of health, encompassing physical and mental well-being, he can naturally seek out mental health professionals when he sees anxiety or depression symptoms in himself.
Prepare your child to care for his health and wellbeing. Help him locate mental health professionals as well as the campus clinic when he starts to college.
Sometimes Giving Your Child “Room” Is Too Much Space
Fearing the mistakes of “helicopter parenting,” many parents don’t recognize in their adolescents when it’s time to seek help. They give their child room to work through his own problems. Unfortunately, a severely depressed adolescent often lacks the energy or stability to seek the treatment he needs or make decisions about his health.
Way too often, these withdrawn teens feel like failures. And what may look like immaturity to parents and teachers may actually be psychiatric symptoms.
Psychiatric symptoms are not the same thing as a lack of “maturity.” In fact, untreated psychiatric symptoms can be an obstacle to the proper development of maturity.
Psychiatric Symptoms in Teens
There are also those teens who managed to get through high school without treatment. Who didn’t realize life and school wasn’t this hard for everyone else. They just keep pushing through, white-knuckling it every day, every week.
When they finally graduate, they hope they’ll be better now. But then the stressors of living away from home, carrying a heavy load of classes, keeping up with all the reading and assignments…well, it gets to be too overwhelming. Not to mention test anxiety in college students is through the roof.
They were able to continue functioning until now. Maybe they’re in their first or second semester. Then one day they go to bed in the dorm, and just can’t get up in the morning. Or the morning after that. Or the morning after that…. And finally, the guilt and shame and inability to face the pressure any more lead to failing grades. Academic suspension. Shame and guilt.
Their parents are blind-sided. Had no idea their daughter hadn’t been going to class. And they wonder why…?
By learning about mental health together with your kids, you both are prepared if anyone in the family…or friends for that matter… begins to exhibit psychiatric symptoms. So, rather than jumping to the conclusion that your child is rebelling or doesn’t appreciate the opportunity you are paying for him to have…you both can talk about symptoms.
Symptoms to Watch For
Remember the trilogy? Sleep patterns, eating, and energy.
Your child just may be too depressed to get out of bed. He may not have the energy to face his life. In fact, he may be eating constantly…. Or forgetting to eat altogether.
Your kid would not be the first or the 1000th kid who displayed these symptoms in college. But educating yourself and your children about what can happen when stress is too high, or in the wake of a tragedy, helps you all to productively respond if it does happen.
Helping your children learn ways to relieve stress as they’re growing up can also help. But above all, be informed, and help your children to be informed too.
If you have a child or young adult who seems to display symptoms of psychiatric mood disorders, call us. We can help him feel better and function at his best again.
At Innovative Psychiatry, we see wonderful results from the use of IV ketamine treatment in 80% of those who have not been helped by any other treatment. Remarkable relief, initiative, hope, and erasure of suicidal thinking. There’s nothing else like it to relieve symptoms and restore you to full function again.
To learn more about IV ketamine treatment, read this and this to get started. Also, if you don’t have children headed for college, but know someone who does, consider sending them this article to help them prepare, too. Niece or nephew? They might benefit by preparing now, to better manage what comes later.
Your child has his whole life ahead, and there are extraordinary ways to treat psychiatric mood disorders that we’ve never had before. Contact us for an appointment.
To the development of your teen’s best self,
Lori Calabrese, MD