Mental Health Check
October is World Mental Health Month, and this is a great reminder to pause for a mental health check. As parents, we worry about our children's wellbeing, especially when we aren't able to physically check on them. Here are a few ways to encourage your student to be mindful of their mental health:
Ask how they are REALLY doing:
The American Institute of Stress reports that 8 in 10 college students experience frequent stress. Using a 1-10 scale each day can help quantify how your student is feeling day to day. If the numbers begin to drop, it may be a sign to seek some additional support. Encourage them to use a planner or their notes app to track their moods. Educate your student on some common warning signs of mental health concerns:
Excessive worry or anxiety
Long-lasting sadness or irritability
Extreme changes in moods
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Often the stressor that presents itself has an underlying root cause. Take time to listen to your child about what is going on. The college years can be very overwhelming as they try to meet expectations socially and academically, not to mention added concerns with covid. Your student may not feel comfortable telling you they are struggling because they want to appear self-sufficient and don't want to disappoint you. Use open ended questions like “Going to college in today’s world is so different from my experience. What's it like for you?” Most importantly, if they share that they are struggling, believe them.
Remind them to take care of themselves:
Our bodies and brain function best if basic needs are met first. Is your student fed, hydrated, rested, and exercising? Planning ahead and keeping a routine is the best way to make sure they are taking care of themselves. The mind-body connection is a key factor to their wellness.
Find what brings them joy:
I don’t mean going to the bar but instead intentionally choosing activities that fill their soul. Have they found a way to continue hobbies they enjoyed at home? Finding something that isn’t for school, work, or to please others will contribute to their overall happiness and will give them something to talk about at holiday functions. Trust me, they are sick of answering “What's your major?” and “Who are you dating?” Encourage them to explore new things until they find their “thing”. It will do them good as they continue their journey into adulthood.
Choose a support team:
Identify who your student feels comfortable going to if they are struggling. Maybe it is a sibling, family friend, healthcare professional, or another trusted person that they feel has their best interest in mind. Talk about the support team, and encourage them to share with that person that they are counting on their support as they work through these tough years. If your student needs support there are resources both on and off campus to assist them. Have them play a role in choosing a professional so they are actively involved in their treatment.
Chronic stress can cause long term health conditions. When things get busy it is easy to neglect ourselves, but making a mental health check part of their routine will allow it to become a habit. At first, it may feel strange for your student to pause and reflect on how they are feeling physically and mentally, but staying mindful will allow them to be present and feel great during some of the best years of their lives.