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Time for Some Emotional Spring Cleaning?Marybeth Bock, MPH
The coronavirus pandemic has upended our college students’ lives. Campuses have closed, graduation ceremonies were cancelled and, although colleges and universities are announcing plans to at least partially reopen, no one really knows what the fall semester will look like.
The good news is that many students are making the best of the situation by using this unexpected time at home to strive for self-improvement or learn a new skill, and to spend more time with their families.
But that doesn’t mean that everything’s rosy. Your student may be dealing with very real and serious mental health challenges due in no small part to all the disruptions and uncertainty they’re experiencing.
Even before COVID-19, NPR reported a mental health epidemic was taking place on college campuses across the country. Mental health issues in college students have been on the rise in recent years.
The current situation has only compounded the problem. Many things may contribute to college stress, depression and a general sense of emotional instability including:
During this difficult time, we can help our students create strategies to avoid stress and anxiety. We can also model good emotional self-care, and be aware of how stress and anxiety might be impacting our own lives.
In some situations, our college students may need the help of a mental health professional. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides this guide to warning signs that may signal someone needs more serious attention.
If you’re concerned that your student’s depression is beyond the tips recommended in this article, you can start by calling the U.S Department of Health & Human Services’ National Helpline for Mental Health at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you think, however, that your student is in a bit of a slump due to the stress of remote learning, being away from friends, and uncertainty about when and if they'll be able to return to a normal life in college, here are five tips that may help them out.
Exercise is essential to physical and mental wellness. But it can be hard for your student to prioritize exercise with everything else that’s going on in their lives, and social distancing and facility closures don't help.
If your student is struggling to get moving, here are a few ideas to inspire them:
Good nutrition is critical to maintaining sound emotional health and relieving stress, during college or any other time of life. Without a normal routine, young adults may be tempted to snack throughout the day (and late into the night). Encourage healthy eating by stocking the house with the kinds of foods that will enrich your student's body and mind.
Here are some ideas for healthy foods to keep around that are easy for your student to prepare.
However, for many college students, getting enough sleep isn’t a top priority. Late nights in front of the TV, computer and video games don’t help, especially if the rest of the family is up and at it bright and early the next morning.
If your student is a night owl, be mindful of waking them up in the morning. Communicate with your family about allowing your student to get the rest they need.
On the other hand, if your student wants to sleep but struggles to fall asleep at a decent hour, they might try the following:
You may have an incoming college senior who's feeling stressed about their job prospects after graduation. Maybe your student is just desperate to make extra spending money, relieve boredom and/or find something meaningful to do with their time.
Stress, boredom, financial worries and angst about the future are all ingredients for mental health problems. So what can your student do? Look for a job!
There are many work and volunteer opportunities out there for college students willing to look for them, including:
One big potential cause of depression and anxiety among college students is boredom and frustration that they can’t do the usual fun and fulfilling summer activities.
With a little bit of creativity, you and your student can make your summer at home into a proper staycation.
A few ideas for at-home fun with college students:
Whether your student ends up heading back to campus this fall or at a later date, you’ll want to make sure they’re armed with the knowledge and resources they need to stay on top of their mental health.
That starts with knowing where they can find support on campus. Most college health centers offer mental health services. And beyond that, telehealth is an excellent 24/7 option.
Help your student take the best possible care of themselves and get support when they need it.