College Mental Health

Emerson’s Counseling and Psychological Services (ECAPS) offers free and confidential individual, couples, and group counseling, as well as consultation and workshops. An after-hours crisis line is available for students with mental health emergencies.  A therapist may be reached 24/7 at 617-824-8595. 

The Huffington Post published an article titled College Mental Health: A Checklist for Parents. This article was written by guest blogger Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, from McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA last spring, but it really contains timeless information for parents.

The article reads, in part “…Mental health issues often emerge during an individual’s early twenties, with the onset of most mental illnesses peaking from ages 18-21, this is a critical time for students and a crucial time for you, the parents, to have a mental health checklist.

When students have mental health crises, parents often feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to help. Awareness and treatment are essential in order to prevent crises that result in failing classes, dropping out, severe emotional issues or, far worse, suicide. Among the most common problems seen with college students are anxiety disorders, depression, alcohol and drug use, psychotic episodes, and relationship difficulties, among others.

Parents frequently need help addressing their adult child’s mental health and educational needs simultaneously. So, as a parent, what can you do? Here are some tips for supporting your child as he or she navigates the unfamiliar waters of university life.

Prepare Your Child

It is very likely that your child, or one of her roommates or friends, will encounter a mental health issue while she is away at college. Talk with her about mental health and let her know she’s not alone. Keeping lines of communication open will help her to feel comfortable that she can come to you with any problems she may experience without fear of being judged.

Have a Plan

All students, but particularly those who have already experienced mental health issues, should have a plan in place in case things get too difficult to handle. If your child is already under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist, make plans to continue that care with a clinician closer to college. Have regular check-ins with family members and friends to monitor any changes, and make an appointment with the campus mental health center to determine what services are available. Students can pre-register for disability support services to access helpful accommodations. Having a solid plan in place will make it easier for your child to obtain mental health services should they become necessary.

Stay in Touch

Make time for regular phone conversations in addition to texting your college-aged child. It’s easier to hear in his voice when something is bothering him than it is to read into a text message. Keep an eye out for symptoms of depression, including sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, restlessness, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, suicidal thoughts, unexplained aches and pains, and tearfulness. A sudden drop in academic performance can be another sign that support is needed.

Forget Stigma

If your child is experiencing mental health issues, prioritize getting help over the fear of tarnishing her transcript or reputation. For some students, a leave from school is needed to recover and get back on track.

Encourage Healthy Habits

It’s easy to let good eating, sleep and exercise habits fall by the wayside while living away from home for the first time. Many students sacrifice physical health for an extra hour of studying or staying out with friends. However, the importance of a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise cannot be overstated, particularly as they relate to overall mental health. sleeping-studentRather than lecturing your student about eating her vegetables, ask how she feels when she eats well or when she sleeps poorly. Help her to connect self-care with emotional stability.

Allow Mistakes

Perfection is not a realistic goal, and it’s important to let your child know that you support him no matter what. Mistakes are an unavoidable part of life, and we can learn from them. A perfect GPA isn’t worth it if it comes at the expense of your child’s emotional well-being.”

Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, director of McLean Hospital’s College Mental Health Program

Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, is the director of the College Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital and an instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.




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