Monitoring Your College Student’s Mental Health Post-Pandemic
Teenagers and young adults have been in a unique position during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many of them, they expected their teenage years to be full of freedom, long nights out with friends, new responsibilities, and growth. It doesn’t matter whether your teenager was just starting high school, getting ready for graduation, or heading off to college when the pandemic hit -- they’ve all had milestone moments in their lives upended without notice, and they can’t get those years back.
While things may begin to look more hopeful as we head into the Summer of 2021, it’s important for parents to not completely let their guard down relating to their child’s mental health, especially for those whose children are in college. The effects of the pandemic on mental health for teenagers, adults, and kids will have a lasting impact for years that will require monitoring and check-ins.
Here are some tips on how you can help monitor your teenager’s mental health during the pandemic, and after. Since teenagers prefer their independence, our aim is to help parents give their kids the space they want while also being readily available for any support they need.
As always, if you are facing an emergency situation with your child or a friend of theirs, please call 911 immediately and seek professional help.
1) Provide a Safe Space for Your Teenager to Express Themselves
Teenagers often struggle with feeling understood, which is why having a community of their peers and hobbies is so important for them to feel like they belong somewhere. The pandemic has dramatically reduced that resource availability for many teenagers and college students, leaving them feeling isolated. For college students both at home or away at university, you want to provide a self space for them to express themselves, and this doesn’t necessarily have to be with you.
However works best for your situation with your child, make sure they have a safe space where they feel they can be open and honest about their emotions. For some parents, you may be able to offer this space to your children yourself with weekly calls or dinners. If you know your young adult prefers to confide in others, however, encourage them to make plans with friends, a significant other, or another adult in their life whom they are comfortable with.
College students struggling with mental health during the pandemic should know they have a support system so work to make sure they are aware of that space and encourage them to use it as often as they need to. Professional therapists are also offering telehealth sessions for college students in need.
2) Check College Mental Health Resources for Young Adults
Colleges and universities are aware of the impact the pandemic is having on their students. College kids who are on campus, learning remotely, or are currently at home all have the right to access these resources. Check in with your child’s local university or college campus to see what they are offering for their students.
This could be anything from socially distant in-person meet-ups, online groups or forums, counselors who are available, and more. Don’t be afraid to reach out directly to an administrator to ask questions about what they’re doing for students’ mental health during the pandemic. As college students also worry about falling behind in their education, follow-up with the plans your child’s college has in place to help students who are struggling or are falling behind.
Once you know of all the resources available for your college student, share those with them. It doesn’t have to be something they use right away but it can be something you bring up from time to time and may be able to utilize yourself if need be.
3) Aim to Make the Transition Back to Regular Activities Smooth
Although this may seem counter-intuitive, jumping right back to old habits could have a negative impact on the mental health of a college student or young adult in your life. This is because stability is a critical component to most mental health wellness, and even though the schedule your college student has developed over the past year isn’t the one they wanted, it is the one they’ve become used to.
Transition slowly back to old habits when things are safe to do so and encourage your college student to do the same. This may mean not making as many plans right away, starting off with a small vacation, or slowly moving them back to in-person classes. Socialization will be important but you want to make sure your child doesn’t feel unstable yet again or get burned out with a fast transition.
4) Make a Mental Health Plan With Your College Student
Talk to your college student about their mental health and make a mental health plan with them. A mental health plan for college students is unique to each child, but it should include the steps they plan to take to care for and monitor their mental health, the resources they have access to in their area, and what to do in case of a crisis.
Be a part of the mental health plan you make with your college student. Find a time to sit down with them and discuss what makes them anxious, depressed, or contributes to any other mental health issues. Look up resources together, identify friends and family members they can turn to, and keep university resources on hand. This is especially important for handling pandemic mental health issues as things continue to be uncertain moving forward.
Always remember to check in and offer to help revise the mental health plan if needed. The mental health plan should focus on what most affects your college student and this may change throughout the pandemic and in the coming years. Keep the conversation open and always come back to it each year.
5) Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Depression, Suicide, Self-Harm, and Anxiety
Parents often think that talking to their child, even college students and teenagers, about suicide and self-harm will give their kid bad ideas. The fact is, however, your child is already aware of suicide and self-harm. Talking to teenagers and college students about these topics will not encourage your child in any way to act on these ideas and instead it may provide them a safe way to talk about their feelings and concerns.
If you are worried about your college student struggling with mental health and the pandemic, don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve thought about suicide or self-harm. Having an open and honest discussion about anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts can lead the way to healing and finding the proper support.
As the number grows of college students and young adults who have suffered from depression during the pandemic, you want to show your child you are there for them, even if they are away from home. Be calm and supportive during these conversations, without judgment. If your child is in need of professional support, talk with their local university or contact a local family therapist near you.