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How Parents Can Be Proactive for their College Student’s Mental Health

Most students associate college with freedom. Along with this freedom comes less structure and new stressors which can make a difficult transition even more challenging, especially for students who are already living with a mental health condition.

It’s important that families work together to be proactive in developing a plan that facilitates autonomy as well as academic and emotional well-being. A well thought out plan can increase the likelihood that students will experience a smooth and successful transition to college life.

The following suggestions can help families set some ground rules, establish open channels of communication and can help students with mental health conditions feel independent, but also supported:

Reach out and Schedule an Appointment: Once your son or daughter has chosen a college to attend, a good first step is to contact the counseling department to find a psychologist and a psychiatrist on campus or nearby. If your child is comfortable they can call themselves to schedule an introductory appointment for soon after they arrive on campus. It’s important to have a therapeutic relationship established so your son or daughter has an ally on or near campus to turn to.

Nurture Your Child’s Independence: Make sure they are all set with taking care of their basic needs at college (i.e.-doing laundry, managing their money, going grocery shopping, etc.). In the midst of all these new things they will be trying to figure out, help them to feel comfortable with the ins and outs of daily life. When you drop them off on their first day, help them to find a local pharmacy, grocery store or even the laundry room in their building so they know where to go to pick up a prescription or if they need something.

Talk with your Child about Signing a Medical Release Form Before Leaving for College: Once your child turns 18, he or she will have the authority to decide whether or not you are let in on information about their physical or mental health. You shouldn’t force your child to sign anything, but it’s important to have a conversation with them about the benefits of being able to check in on them and to offer them support if they need it. It’s imperative that parents set a clear boundary for respecting their child’s privacy–each situation is unique and warrants a well-thought out plan. If your child does not sign the medical release form, you will only be able to access health information if there is a crisis.

Come up with a System of Communication: Try to establish some grounds for open communication about your child’s well-being. In this day and age it’s easy to text, call, or send a snapchat but make sure you are encouraging independence in your child’s life as well. They need to learn how to navigate living with their mental health condition, so let them know you are always here for them if they want to talk about anything but be prepared for the reality that they might not tell you every little thing that happens.

Inform the Academics Office of Your Child’s Disability: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, almost all colleges and universities must legally provide students with reasonable accommodations (such as being allowed more time to take a test, or to record lectures), as long as your child has a mental illness that meets the legal criteria. To receive academic adjustments, parents likely will be asked to provide written proof of a child’s disability.

Research Student-led Mental Health Advocacy Organizations: Encourage your child to join an organization devoted to student mental health–like Active Minds. This may give your child comfort knowing they have a group of people all dedicated to the same issue–it may help with making friends when they are feeling new and taking action and doing good can help boost your self-esteem