College for my son began with the entire family traveling to NYC to drop him off. 

College life this year is DIFFERENT.

You probably experienced many different emotions all at the same time like excitement, sadness, pride, worry, happiness, and anxiety. You had concerns because it was the first time your student had been away from home and had the responsibility to manage their life. 

We are still in the middle of a pandemic. You watch the news and see reports on the mental health of college students. OMG! I didn’t even talk to them about their mental health. How can I help them from a distance?

Here are a few ways you can help your college student with their mental health from home:

Communicate with your student.

Text, email, IG, Messenger, a goodie box, or even a simple phone call works. It’s important to stay in touch. To prevent missed connections, it may be good to set a specific day and time to check in. 

Be realistic in your communication expectations. All day, every day is unrealistic ( and not healthy) even by text. Remember your calls are for connection and checking in, not CONTROL.

Be patient with your student and yourself.

If this is your first time having a college student, it’s brand new for both of you. There will be a learning curve in what and how your student communicates. If you feel you aren’t getting all the information you need, learn to ask open-ended questions. This gives them space to share without feeling interrogated.

Be aware of how much pressure you’re placing on them. 

Perceived or real, many college students feel the pressure to perform. A certain amount of pressure is healthy. Be aware of your words and actions that can add extra pressure for them to perform academically or join specific organizations. 

Talk with your college student about mental health.

Reassure your student that having many different feelings is normal. It’s normal to be overwhelmed during midterms and finals, it’s normal to be sad and miss your friends, and it’s normal to be frustrated and disappointed this year is not going as you wanted it. 

Share with them the warning signs of depression and anxiety. Talk to them about drug use on campus and ways to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted or being accused of sexual assault. 

Talk to parents who’ve had kids in college.

Yes, talking to your child about their mental health is important. Taking care of yours is equally important. You may find yourself extremely sad or anxious now that your student is gone. “The house feels empty and is so quiet.” Finding people who have been through this journey and made it to the other side will be beneficial for you. 

Listen to your intuition.

Things have been going well, and all of a sudden your student stops communicating. Or, you feel something is wrong or going on. Trust your instincts. Share with them that you are concerned and ask open-ended questions: How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do to support you? Would you like to use me as a sounding board? If you find the issue is bigger, take appropriate action.

Be willing to reevaluate each semester.

Each new school term brings a different set of challenges. Being flexible, open, and honest will help you and your student successfully move forward. Discuss how this first semester went—the good, bad, and ugly. Then, take time to examine any changes that need to be made (i.e. more/fewer check-ins, more/fewer visits, and any mental health needs, etc.).

For many, college is a time of fun and exploration. However, this year, you and your student may be feeling the pressure of the “new normal.” Working together, connecting, and paying appropriate attention to your student will get you through the college journey.

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