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A Mental Health Game Plan for College Students and FamiliesRob Danzman, MS, NCC, LCMHC
Heading into the new academic year, most colleges and universities plan to hold fully in-person classes and activities. But with COVID-19 still circulating widely, students will need to remain vigilant to protect themselves and attentive to whatever health rules their individual school mandates.
On top of all the concerns around the highly transmissable Delta variant of COVID-19, students have all of life’s more typical health issues to worry about, too.
There are any number of reasons your student may need to seek medical care during college. Some common health needs of college students include care for:
Reality requires that we plan for the unexpected, so helping your student understand the full range of their healthcare options on and near campus is an important item to check off your list before school starts in the fall.
It’s also critical to make sure they have the proper student health insurance to get the care they may (but hopefully won’t) need.
Here’s our complete guide to health insurance and healthcare options for your college student.
Most universities require students to have health insurance coverage. For college students with no income, this can seem like a costly hurdle.
Fortunately, there are a few different options when it comes to securing health insurance for college students.
Students who are under the age of 26 and claimed as dependents by a parent are allowed to stay on their parent's health insurance. In many cases, this is the easiest way for college students to get health insurance.
If your student will attend school out of state, you should check with your insurance provider to make sure your plan covers your student’s needs, and you may need to provide proof of this coverage in order to waive the college's student insurance plan.
Many schools offer their own college student health insurance plans, which are a good alternative for basic care at the campus health center. Even if your student doesn’t have a school-provided health insurance plan, they can still get low-cost or even free care at the school’s health center.
In some cases, students are automatically enrolled in the school plan and must complete an online waiver in order to opt out.
You and your student can always shop for an individual plan on the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov. Even if family or school plans are available options, you may want to browse the marketplace to compare plans and see which is best suited to your student’s health needs.
With health insurance in hand, your student is ready for when they need care at school. Now they need to know where they can access healthcare on or near their campus.
Before you send your student off to school this fall, sit down with them to review the following options for finding care.
The Campus Health Center
Most schools operate a campus health center, which your student should feel free to use as needed.
A college health center can typically attend to a variety of basic health needs, including:
The campus health center can also refer your student to a local hospital or specialist if more care is needed. It’s easy for your student to make an appointment online or by calling ahead.
On-campus health facilities don’t typically operate 24/7 or in an emergency capacity. It’s important to know the other care options available to your student. That brings us to urgent care.
Local Urgent Care Clinics and Emergency Rooms
Research where the nearest urgent clinics are in relation to your student’s campus. These are a critical in-between for when your student needs immediate attention but isn’t experiencing a health emergency.
Say your student wakes up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in their stomach. They're not sure what’s wrong. The campus health center is closed, and waiting until morning doesn’t feel like a safe or comfortable option. This is an example of when your student should visit urgent care.
Walk-in clinics are another good resource for milder needs like infections, ear pain, coughing and general physical discomfort.
In more extreme cases, there’s always the emergency room. Severe burns, broken bones, deep cuts, chest pain, head injuries, eye injuries, seizures and bleeding call for a visit to the ER.
Make sure your student knows the location and name of the nearest hospital to their campus. In life-threatening emergencies, calling 9-1-1 is the best option.
One thing we haven’t discussed so far is mental health. If your student’s campus health center is closed or offers only limited mental health services, what should they do? In many cases, telehealth is an excellent solution.
Telehealth Options for College Students
The causes of stress for college students are many. Students are away from home for the first time in their lives. They’re balancing school, new relationships and often part-time jobs. The pressure to perform is high. It’s a wonder our students hold up as well as they do!
Depression and anxiety among students is unfortunately a common challenge. We all want our student to be able to talk to us about anything, but sometimes they choose not to open up to us, or we're not as equipped as professionals to provide the most helpful counsel.
This is where telehealth comes in.
What is telehealth? It’s a method of providing care remotely, using phone, online chat, email and videoconferencing technologies. Its remote nature makes it great for personal counseling about sensitive topics.
Some notable telehealth resources include:
It’s easy for students to fall into unhealthy routines in college. Late nights spent studying, weekends spent partying, stressful classes and junk food are all common culprits.
Poor nutrition is a problem for many students. It may the first time in their lives that they’ve had to make all their own decisions about what they eat. The good news: it’s possible to eat right at a college dining hall. Read our guide to healthy eating on campus meal plans >
And don't forget to support your student's healthy sleep habits. This is a great thing to talk about the summer before college.
Help your student take the best possible care of themselves and get support when they need it.