Recently, colleges have become more aware of the increase in mental and physical health issues among their students and have drastically improved the services and resources available to them. With nearly one third of all students having a diagnosable mental health issue at some point during their freshman year, these resources are invaluable. However, despite the plethora of resources available to them, at least 40% of the students experiencing mental health issues are not getting the help the need. The main problem is not the lack of resources, but rather the student not taking the initiative to seek them out.
One thing students should do early is inform themselves on the campus resources available to them while on tour and considering which schools to add to their list. Once accepted, students should make it a point to get even more familiar with the mental and academic counseling options their college provides - many offer both right on campus. In fact, many schools actually have trained mental health professionals and psychologists on staff and they usually have walk-in hours as well as appointments. From support groups to tutoring or private counseling sessions, many forms of help are available.
Students need to understand they can get counseling for nearly any issue ranging from sinking grades, eating disorders, test anxiety, and sleeplessness to roommate problems, depression, and alcohol and drugs. No issue is too small and it is better to seek help before the problem develops further and continues to disrupt life. The common rule of thumb is if it has been a disturbance for more than two weeks, seek help. Students should never hesitate to give either the academic or mental health counseling offices a call and set up an appointment or just walk in to discuss their options.
In cases of emergency or after-hours, students can call campus emergency numbers, local community agencies, 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and even text the Crisis Text Line for help. They should make a list of these important resources to have on hand.
Whether it is an academic advisor, career counselor, tutor, or roommate, students should also find someone they are comfortable speaking with and not be ashamed of discussing their issues. While these people may not be the proper ones to help, it is always better to talk to someone about problems than to keep them to yourself. At the very least, this person can advise them to seek help where appropriate or get them help when they are concerned.
If students have mental health issues before entering college, it is particularly important that they establish a plan and know where to go when they will need help. It may even be worth considering establishing a relationship with a mental health professional on campus or locally before the stress of freshman year begins.
Whether or not students think they will need some sort of counseling, they should learn about their options and understand that there is no shame in seeking help. Adapting to college life and adulthood is challenging and at one point or another, we could all use some help.
As parents and educators, teaching students to self advocate and take advantage of the resources available to them is an important part of preparing them for college and beyond. We need to make sure our students are comfortable with asking for help when needed and that they know where to go for that help.
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