Many parents are unaware that U.S. colleges are grappling with a mental-health crisis of epidemic proportions, and college counseling centers are struggling to meet the skyrocketing demand for services.
Almost half of all college-age adults have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, and college students are seeking psychological help in unprecedented numbers. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health's (CCMH) 2016 Annual Report, there was a 5 percent increase in college enrollment, nationwide, accompanied by 30 percent increase in demand for mental-health services, between 2010 and 2016.
According to the CCMH report, of those students in treatment at college counseling centers, approximately:
Many forms of mental illness first emerge during the college years, often coinciding with young adults' first time living away from home. Mental illness appears to be increasing in college-age adults, and more than 1 in 3 college students reporting about being "so depressed that it was difficult to function." This is a significant public health issue, particularly because suicide is the second most common cause of death among this age group.
It's much easier to have a plan in place before a mental-health crisis emerges while a student is away at college. Here are some tips for parents of new college students – whether or not they've had prior mental-health care:
For all parents…
Parents should also remember that the vast majority of college students are legal adults, which means they have a federal right to privacy of their health information. Many parents are surprised to learn that colleges do not generally share academic or health information with them — regardless of who's paying the tuition bill. Federal law generally permits colleges to contact parents in case of emergency but what constitutes an emergency isn't always clear.
A homemaker from New Jersey, who did not want to be identified to protect her daughter, discovered this first-hand. The woman said she was stunned when her daughter, who was at college out of state, admitted that she had recently been in the hospital for severe alcohol intoxication. "I was even more shocked to realize that the college had known all along, because it was the residence advisor (RA) in her dorm who had called the ambulance. Yet, as a parent, I was never notified. My daughter was under our health insurance, so she knew I would eventually find out when I received the 'Explanation of Benefits' insurance paperwork."
For the many parents whose children have had past mental-health treatment, leaving home presents a set of challenges, as they suddenly lose the ability to regularly observe and monitor their kids.
If your child has received prior mental-health care…
If your college student should need mental-health care while away at school, college counseling centers and/or off-campus clinicians can provide necessary treatment. Here's what you need to know about both facilities:
College counseling centers
Finally, for all parents, communicate that your child's health and well-being take priority over academic achievement, always. Express your unconditional love; let your children know they can come to you with any mental-health and/or substance-abuse concerns. College isn't a race, and taking a break for needed care doesn't foretell an unsuccessful future.
To learn more about the soaring demand for college mental-health services, see the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2016 Annual Report.
Get involved in protecting the mental health of teens and young adults at jedfoundation.org.