As you send your high school graduate off to college in the next few weeks, it’s discouraging to consider that only about 40 percent of those kids will graduate in four years, and only 59 percent will get their diplomas within six years. The primary reason is neither finances nor academics, but rather mental health.
Sixty-four percent of former college students reported that mental health issues were the primary reason for dropping out of school. The American College Health Assessment completed in 2012 found that 21 percent of college students were treated for mental health problems in the past 12 months. The most frequently treated disorders were anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
You’ve spent years preparing your child to get into a good college. Your young adult may be well equipped to deal with classes in organic chemistry or American literature, but most are ill-informed about how to handle the serious mental health challenges that await them.
Here’s how you can help.
- Talk about mental health. Many families still view mental disorders as a sign of weakness. This makes it difficult for kids to reach out for help when things get tough. The College Health Assessment found that a significant number of college kids reported serious problems in functioning due to feelings of being very sad (61 percent), anxious (51 percent), and depressed (31 percent). Seven percent of college students seriously considered suicide, and 10 percent were forced into sexual behaviors without their consent. Is your young adult psychologically equipped to deal with those types of problems?
- Talk about resources. The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 73 percent of college students experience a mental health crisis in college. Educate yourself and your child about the mental health resources available on campus. Help your young adult understand the importance of seeking help before a serious problem degenerates into a debilitating mental disorder.
- Talk about drugs and alcohol. The College Health Assessment found that 66 percent of college kids had used alcohol within the previous month, and 16 percent had smoked pot. These mood altering substances have serious consequences, with 36 percent of kids reporting that while drinking they did something they later regretted, ranging from having unprotected sex to physically injuring themselves. I understand that drinking among college kids is common, but that doesn’t make it healthy or normal. Chemical management of your moods by drinking or smoking pot is one of the most dangerous activities done on college campuses.
- Stay connected. While respecting their privacy and independence, ask questions and stay engaged with your child. Don’t overreact to minor issues, but let them know that they always have their family’s support.