My mom sobbed quietly for most of the four hour trip that hot August day many years ago. As their firstborn, as well as the first in the family to attend college, this was a new experience for everyone. There was very little that my parents could provide in terms of what to do, or what not to do, as they delivered me with most all of my belongings to the small college I would be attending five hours away from home.
Luckily I managed to be successful without any damaging scars. The voyage to college has changed over the years for many students and families. Oftentimes roommates have the whole summer to get to know one another via social media, Facetime, Skype, etc. Some schools have elaborate “camp like” 1st year orientations, or other mini orientations throughout the summer to get students acclimated to the college living experience.
While counseling, therapy, or mental health services continue to be a stigma in society, the truth is there are a staggering number of students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability, had many years of counseling, may have been on psychiatric medications, or have overcome various life obstacles who are or will be attending college. On some campuses, supports and services are easily accessible, while others may be more laborious. As a parent helping their student transition to college, you may need to help them navigate who or where to seek out help (you may also need to remind them to advocate for themselves since mom and dad will not be able to keep tabs so easily).
Here are some suggestions for parents to consider as their child is transitioning to college:
On Campus Services
Often time students have difficulty navigating the services on campus, and have difficulty advocating for themselves, therefore parents may want to encourage their student to get acquainted with the various levels of support. All college campuses will have an Office of Disability Services, if your student had an IEP in high school, it may be beneficial to let the school know that various accommodations were helpful to ensure the success of your student. Many parents and students do not realize that a mental health diagnosis could be considered a disability. Informing the school of potential obstacles that may come up, or actual accommodations that may be needed are all proactive steps to ensure academic success, as well as having school administrators be able to advocate for your student as things come up.
Most college campuses also have some sort of Counseling Center where mental health needs can be addressed. If your student was in counseling prior to enrolling in college, it may be best to inquire with your student, and their current counselor about how to transition services to the College Counseling Center. Additionally, some Counseling Centers will also have a psychiatrist on staff, or a consulting psychiatrist who is able to evaluate, monitor, or prescribe medications. If your student is currently on medication, a plan should be made on how medications will continue to be monitored and refilled.
Off Campus Services
Some on campus Counseling Centers are not capable of on-going long term therapy, and therefore referrals to counselors will be made, or if you and your student prefer to maintain more privacy counselors in the community should be vetted. Directories and referral sites such as Psychology Today, Good Therapy, etc., are a good place to start, but word of mouth, a counselor website/blog/social media may also be a good way to find a new counselor.
If you are concerned about psychiatric emergency services, you should familiarize yourself with local psychiatric hospitals, crisis response teams, involuntary hospitalizations laws for that state, as well as the existing psychiatric response protocol of the college.
Most college students are 18 years old therefore, legally considered an adult. Due to being an adult they are able to buy cigarettes, enlist to serve in the Armed Forces, and sign documents related to liability, injury, and privacy. Due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) a school will not disclose any information about a student, unless there is written consent to share information, this includes grades, academic progress, financial statements, as well as medical and mental health concerns. If there are pre-existing concerns of any kind, and you feel that your college student will need family supports, a conversation around privacy and FERPA should occur. Your college student can grant you permission, so the college/university can share information with you as needed.
The transitions to college can be challenging, but with the right supports in place, and continued love and understanding from parent(s),
every student can succeed in this new phase of life.