Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How to support your child throughout their college experience: Tips for parents

by Amanda Padden

The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is a program the guidance department presents to all students at MHS (see Stephanie Worthley’s blog post called Youth Suicide Prevention). I was reading through some of the resources the program provides and came across one called, “What can parents do to best support a child’s college experience?” The document outlines how parents can identify distress in their child and better understand how to help them when they no longer live at home. Symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, and suicidal thinking are discussed, but what I thought was interesting and worth sharing is the information it provides about how to strengthen communication between parents and their college age children around mental health. Below are some helpful suggestions for parents:
  • Be honest about mental health in your own life or the lives of family and friends. Discuss the value of psychological help. Talking about mental health can help to normalize it. 
  • Be an active listener- don’t finish your child’s thoughts or interrupt with a quick solution when they have a problem. Let them consider the options and help them to make a pros and cons list for each. 
  • Talk, don’t criticize- communicate your views in non-critical ways, avoiding words like must or ought. I think this is especially important when talking about drugs/alcohol, friend groups, etc. 
  • Let your child know they don’t have to protect you from their problems. 
  • Know the resources available at the college- make sure your child knows where the counseling center is. If your child is currently experiencing mental health problems, contact the counseling center in advance and schedule an appointment for the beginning of the school year. 
  • If your child contacts you in distress, try to be calm in the moment and tell them that they did the right thing by sharing the problem with you. If you are far away, think about someone local you can contact- the counseling center, the resident advisor, the dean, a local hospital, the campus police, etc. 
College can be a very exciting and joyful time for students and their families. However, it’s also a time of transition and uncertainty. Having an open and honest conversation about mental health (or substance abuse, consent, stress, etc.) before your child leaves for school will make it easier for your child to come to you if one of those problems arises.

For more information about supporting your child in their college experience, please visit this site: https://mentalhealthscreening.org/blog/category/college

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