Health & Safety

Caring for the whole student

Summer College Lifeup-summer-header

By Evanne Montoya

Health, academic success and emotional well-being are all connected. Whether you have a first year student or an upperclassman, summer is a great time to help your student take stock of her health and make a plan to stay well in the coming academic year. (Take a look at our “Checklist of Summer Wellness Tasks” and get a head start!)

Parents of incoming freshmen: Your student is about to take full responsibility for her own physical, mental and emotional health. Use this summer to give her some of the tools she needs to become an independent adult (the “Checklist” above has plenty of tips). Make sure you have a plan for continued care of any existing conditions. Parents of current college students: The end of the school year takes a toll on health and students often come home exhausted or even ill. When your student is back on her feet, check in with her about mental, emotional and physical well-being. Encourage her to work on healthy habits over the summer and make a plan to continue them when her workload increases again in the fall.

While aspects of physical health may be more visible, mental and emotional well-being have an equal bearing on your student’s happiness and success. I spoke with Dr. Victor Schwartz to learn what parents should know about mental and emotional health in college. Victor is the Medical Director of The JED Foundation, a non-profit promoting emotional health and suicide prevention among college/university students. He also spent 24 years working with students at Yeshiva University and NYU.

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Victor informed me that, when it comes to mental health, there are a couple of factors that make the college years especially challenging. “Just from a clinical perspective, the period from 18 to 25 is when many psychiatric illnesses present themselves,” Victor notes.

This can be compounded by the fact that it’s usually students’ first time living away from home. “It’s a period when students are moving from a more controlled environment to college, where they’re deciding their own life direction,” he says.

How can parents help?

  1. Reduce the stress of “living on your own” by helping your student learn to manage things herself. Victor suggests having practical conversations over the summer. “Make sure your student has a handle on taking care of finances, managing her time, and establishing good sleep patterns and nutrition.”
  2. Let students know that some parts of college are going to be tough, and that’s okay. “While this is an exciting time, and a lot of great stuff is going on, students shouldn’t hesitate to reach out and use the resources available to them.”
  3. Speaking of resources, educate yourself on what the university has to offer in terms of student support and counseling services. Reassure your student that you’re available too!  “Know what the Dean of Students does, where the health center is, what services the counseling center offers,” Victor suggests. He also recommends checking now to see what the family insurance plan (or the school’s health insurance plan) will cover.
  4. Encourage your student to consider clubs, student organizations, intramural sports and other opportunities to get involved on campus. Victor notes that being socially connected plays an important role in maintaining good mental and emotional health.
  5. Talk to your student about moderating use of alcohol or other substances. “Many people who are struggling emotionally are also struggling with substance abuse,” Victor says. The problems are “bidirectional” and “it’s often hard to tell which came first.” If it seems like professional treatment and support might be needed, start this summer.
  6. If your student has a history of mental or emotional issues, “Work with your local professional on a plan to follow up with your student when she is at school,” Victor advises. “If your student is far away, make sure that someone at health or counseling services knows about her history.”
Tip

The Jed Foundation has detailed information about supporting your student’s mental and emotional health in college. Check out The Jed Foundation website or, for information and tools focused specifically on the transition from high school to college, visit Transition Year here.

This should not affect your student’s admittance; in fact, schools prefer to have this information in order to ensure the proper resources are in place. If your student is currently in treatment, use the summer to set up continuation of treatment for the fall, and be sure to fill out the proper paperwork to allow the clinicians to communicate with one another or with you.

Who can you talk to if you’re worried about your student?

Victor says that if you have a concern and reach out to the dean of students or counseling services, they should work with you to listen and determine a plan of action. Because of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA), the school is restricted from telling you certain information about your student, including whether or not she is attending counseling. However, this law does not prevent you from sharing your concerns.

Victor encourages parents to think of mental and emotional health as they do physical health. “Just as with physical illness, there is a range,” he says. Mental or emotional problems aren’t necessarily lifelong affairs; “in young people these things are often developmental.” The important thing is to address problems if they arise. Part of the reason Victor finds working with college students so rewarding is that treatment really does help. “It’s an area where you can really make a profound difference in someone’ s life.”

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.

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