As young adults head off to college, parents and students can take some proactive measures to ensure positive mental health, or to help those who are struggling. Here’s what University of Michigan staff psychologist Luke Henke, JED Foundation chief clinical officer Nance Roy and independent college consultant Eva McGregor Dodds recommend:
- Henke says to change expectations to “excellence.” University of Michigan’s mental health researchers look at adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Adaptive is the goal — doing your best but not falling apart if you fall short. “You can never be perfect,” he says, but kids can feel beat up and keep trying harder and harder to reach the unattainable, at great cost. “Most parents don’t mean to do that. Try “You tried really hard and that’s something to be proud of."
- Students with known mental illness can prepare for college by lining up mental health services. When choosing a college, consider what services are offered on campus or nearby. A therapist from home might be willing to check in by Skype, too. Plan in advance.
- Students should know who to contact at college in a mental health crisis. Those receiving mental health care before going to college should know how care will continue once they get there. Plan it. Don't leave it to chance.
- If a college has a program like UM’s Wolverine Support Network, students should join. Otherwise, find an academic adviser they respect.
- Join a club, volunteer or get a job. Define yourself as more than just a student.
- Try one new thing each semester.
- Pre-book the first trip home, because it’s a long, daunting stretch from school start to Thanksgiving — and a time when anxiety begins to burble. Students endure if they know they’ll be home soon.
- Parents and students both need to recognize many different paths lead to success. Be realistic about pressures like debt and what they cost in terms of unhappiness and stress.