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Parent-to-Parent Advice for the College TransitionCollegiateParent
By Cambria Pilger
Mental health is a growing conversation topic on college campuses all across the country. It’s important to know how to talk about mental health with your student and how to help them find resources.
The best thing you can do as a parent is to support and love your student, and encourage them to engage in wellness programs and opportunities on and off campus. Beyond your support, there are many student leaders, staff members and friends already looking
out for your student!
Every university has at least one group or program focused on student wellbeing and mental health. At my school, the main mental health resources come from the counseling center, residence life and our Student Success Center. Each of these offer a variety of opportunities to learn and talk about one’s mental health.
The counseling center hosts lectures and workshops and offers all students 10 free counseling sessions per semester (services on your student’s campus may differ). It also recently implemented a “Let’s Talk” series, which allows students to have a 15-minute walk-in session with a counselor, any weekday at a given location on campus. These sessions are helpful because the counseling center often has a waitlist for scheduled appointments, and these brief sessions give students just enough time to process what’s going on in their world and get support from a trained professional.
This sort of brief, informal meeting could be a great way for you to support your student, too. Set up your own “Let’s Talk” call with your student. It can be a few times each week that you’ll be available and willing to talk, should your student need it.
Residence life does a lot to create open spaces to discuss and learn about mental health. When I was a Resident Assistant, my fellow RAs and I led many “Prime Times” (two-hour weeknight events in the dorm) about mental health. Once we focused on anxiety — what it is, what it feels like, how it manifests itself — and other times we looked at how different aspects of a student’s life (social/emotional/academic/vocational/financial) impact their mental health. I also held a weekly appointment where my residents could hang out, check in and talk openly about the things going on in their life. Beyond the events, I genuinely cared about checking in on my residents’ lives and would reach out often to see how they were each doing.
Residence life leaders care a lot about students. If your student lives on campus, one of the easiest ways for them to get support is through the student leadership in their building. Remind your student to make connections with not only the RAs but also the other students in their hall. By building these relationships, they can have immediate access to support when they need it.
Finally, my school’s Student Success Center focuses on students’ financial and academic wellbeing. These areas influence mental health and vice versa. Professors, friends, student leaders and staff can submit Student Concern Forms to the SSC if they feel a student is struggling, no matter how small the issue. The SSC looks at every request and reaches out to the student to see if they need and/or want to be connected with a counselor or with a peer leader in their major who can help them get back on track with their classes.
I recommend that you look into what groups, departments or programs your student’s university has that focus on mental health. Research them with your student, so that you’re both aware of the options. If your student knows what resources are available, they may be more likely to seek out support when they need it.
It’s always best not to pressure your student. Just because groups focused on mental health exist on campus doesn’t mean your student will want to participate. They may be in a positive environment and headspace right now, and just knowing that the group exists is enough.
Keep in mind that a lot of this may be out of your hands because it is personal and complex. Your student may not always feel comfortable discussing their emotional health with you. Ask your student what you can do for them, and they’ll tell you what they need. Genuinely listen when they open up about their wellbeing. If you are open and honest about your own mental health, your student might be willing to be, too.