Probably every student hears from their parents that college years are the best years of their life. But is it really so?
Unfortunately, the time spent in college is not all partying and engaging in other fun activities. In reality, students have to deal with a lot of stress from homework, writing papers and conducting research. On top of that, they have to think about their future career, take on various projects and participate in volunteering.
Many college students also have to deal with college loans, which can often be very high. Many students take on this responsibility because their families aren’t able to provide the finances to pay for college.
College students have a lot on their plate. Taking into consideration that most of them have just left high school and aren’t prepared for the responsibilities of adult life, it takes a toll on their mental health. And it’s not just about the stress.
Some reports suggest that hopelessness and lack of guidance often lead college students to suicidal thoughts. CBS News reports that 1 in 5 college students experience chronic stress which makes them consider suicide. In a survey of 67,000 students, the traumatic and stressful events which had the most impact on their mental health were:
- academic pressures
- career issues
- family problems
- problematic social relationships
- health problems
- sleep difficulties
20% of the surveyed students had suicidal thoughts while 9% had actually attempted suicide.
Due to an increasing threat to the students’ mental health, many colleges have created counseling centers where students can get help and guidance. Thus, students now have an option to receive the support that can help them stay at school.
However, the help from such counseling centers is not always enough. The state of mental health in college students should also be a concern for their parents. In some cases, when a counselor cannot help, it’s parents who can provide the much-needed support and guidance, and even save their child’s life before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, there was a case when the parents of a college student didn’t know about the mental health problems of their child. He had visited the counseling center for mental health support; however, driven to despair, he committed suicide in his dorm room. The New York Times reported that as a sophomore he had academic difficulties and troubles falling asleep, which led to depression. While the college counseling center knew of his struggles, their response was slow. His parents, if notified in time, may have been able to help him avoid this struggle.
This leads to the question: Do parents know how to recognize mental health problems in their children? What are the first alarm bells of mental health deterioration?
In an attempt to answer these questions, let’s take a look at some of the most common signs that may indicate that your college student child needs mental health help.
Disclaimer: the signs, described below, should not be used for self-diagnosis but should rather be used to recognize possible mental health problems. Please refer to a licensed mental health professional who will review these signs to establish a diagnosis.
Lack of Self-Care
Mental health illness can affect behaviors and basic activities. The lack of desire to keep up with basic self-care needs may be one of the signs of mental health problems. According to MedicineNet lack of self-care (or self-neglect) is a symptom of many mental health disorders, including:
- psychotic disorders
- bipolar disorder
- Diogenes syndrome,
Self-care is hard to maintain when a person struggles with mental health problems. It is connected to the structure of our brain. For instance, depression is associated with the dysfunction of the frontal lobes, which are responsible for executive functioning that includes self-care skills. Among the skills that can be impaired as a result of self-neglect are:
- decision making
- working memory
- emotional control and functioning
If you’ve noticed that your college student child is struggling with self-care, it’s time to consider consulting a mental health professional. Often self-neglect is the first sign of many severe mental health problems.
Change in the Outlook
The effects of mental health problems are not only limited to changes in behavior. They also affect the emotional state of a person, forcing changes in their outlook.
When a person suddenly sees the world from a different perspective, this should be a warning sign. The change in perspective is often very radical and not usual for that person. For instance, if your child used to have a positive outlook which suddenly changes to a negative one, it’s a sign that something is going on.
Pay attention to the tone of your child’s voice. They may answer you in an abrupt way, be unusually rude or even avoid communication at all. Children who are usually active and outgoing may withdraw from society, avoiding usual activities and ignoring social relationships. They may also seem disconnected from feelings, becoming cynical to the of being inappropriate.
However, don’t rush to conclusions. Many teenagers may also show such behaviors while going through puberty. It’s connected to the levels of hormones that often impact behavioral patterns. Nevertheless, if such behaviors persist, it may indicate that your college student child needs mental health help.
One of the obvious signs of possible mental health problems is poor academic progress. Failing academic progress is also connected to the dysfunction of the frontal lobes, resulting in poor emotional control, decision making and planning. Thus, a college student becomes disinterested in continuing to pursue academic success.
Recent research, published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal, shows the connection between mental health problems and academic performance. The research shows that students who experience severe mental health problems have nearly 4 times the risk of experiencing low academic self-efficacy.
High levels of anxiety may be behind the poor academic performance, as it contributes to:
- motor restlessness
- unfounded fear of not accomplishing things
- avoidance behavior
All these symptoms in coherence contribute to the lack of desire to keep academic performance up. As a parent, keep a sharp lookout if your child starts skipping and failing classes or handing in assignments late. Keep in touch with their professors. They can keep you updated on your child’s academic performance so you can take action if needed.
Alcohol or drug abuse is not a definite sign of mental health problems. However, if your child, who has never used alcohol or drugs, suddenly starts indulging in such self-harming behavior, it might be a sign that they suffer from some issues connected to mental health.
Although not all mental health diseases have substance abuse as a symptom, some people who suffer from mental illness also have a history of substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 in 4 individuals with a mental illness, aged 18 and older, also have substance use disorder.
However, regardless of whether your child has mental health problems or not, substance abuse should be remedied. Substance abuse may cause other mental health problems; so it is important to start treating it as soon as possible.
Appetite Loss and Insomnia
Among the symptoms of many mental health problems are appetite loss and insomnia. Mental and physical health are closely connected, so if one suffers, it impacts the other immediately. Thus, treating mental health problems also involves treating physical health.
According to Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network, appetite loss can reflect distinct groups of depression. This is explained by the fact that depression causes the rise of stress hormones, which in turn, effects metabolism and increases inflammatory markers.
Sleep disorder is also one of the most common signs of mental health problems. According to Harvard Health Publishing, sleep disorders are among the most common cases in psychiatric practices. Sleep disorders can not only be caused by mental health problems but can trigger mental health issues themselves.
If you see that your college student child starts having a bad appetite and struggles to fall asleep, this might suggest that they need your parental support and/or help from a mental health professional
Although the above-mentioned symptoms are not to be used to self-diagnose your child, they are among the most common signs that indicate some mental health problems. Your task as a parent is to be observant and ready to help when your child needs you the most. If they ask for your support, don’t neglect them. This period of life is one of the most crucial for them as it plays an important role in forming them as individuals.
Mental health should not be stigmatized or ignored. When provided with guidance and support, your child will be equipped with more strength and desire to overcome the problems that caused them so much discomfort.
If you’re not sure what to do or how to help your child, please contact Mental Health America hotline (1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) for assistance.