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Teen Health and Safety

Starting the College Mental Health Conversation

Photo: Courtesy of Tiago Bandeira

College is an exciting transition, but also stressful. Stress and other factors can adversely affect the mental health of a young adult. In fact, about 75 percent of mental illness begins by age 24, and 30 percent of college students experience depression each year.

A study by Emory University has estimated that nationwide there are 1,000 campus suicide deaths each year; meanwhile the University of Missouri found that 70 percent of its students were unware of its mental health services.

Facing the problem

There is an urgent need to respond to these concerns — beginning with students and parents. Thankfully, health organizations are recognizing this and providing resources on how start a conversation, navigate college, manage stress, recognize signs of mental health conditions, seek campus mental health resources and ensure appropriate sharing of health information and protection of privacy rights.

Stress at school can come from relationship issues, academic pressures, lack of sleep, and loss of day-to-day support from family. Beyond stress factors, signs of mental health conditions include:

  • Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • Out-of-control risk-taking behavior
  • Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
  • Intense worries or fears that interfere with daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
  • Drastic changes in mood, personality or sleep habits

Starting a dialogue

Students need to know who to talk to and where to get help on their campus if they experience a mental health condition. If students are over 18, their express authorization is required for college or doctors to share information with a parent or anyone else about an emerging condition. This can limit a family’s ability to provide support and help in accessing services just when a student needs it most.

It’s important for students to understand how privacy laws are applied. Then they can decide what they want to share and complete an authorization form to give to health care providers.

When your child is young, you want to do everything you can to keep them safe. For your teenager going to college, there are different challenges, but you still need to be prepared. Let’s recognize that mental health is part of health and get prepared by starting the conversation with the college student in your life.

Mary Gilberti, CEO, National Alliance on Mental Illness, [email protected]

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