Making a Mental Health Checklist to Prepare Students for College

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By Abby Betz, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Now that our youngest children are back in school, it is time to start thinking about college-aged students returning to campus. We spend lots of time preparing our youngsters for going “back to school,” but what about our college students? Are we preparing our young adults for what lies ahead of them in the real world?

Not only is it important for these students to prepare themselves for the responsibilities of living independently, but it is also important for college-aged students to think about protecting their emotional well-being before they even set foot on campus.

Many college students have thought of the necessities needed for school – computers, mini fridges, parking passes, and other supplies. But have these students and their parents considered what tools they may need to support themselves on an emotional level?

In a 2017 survey by WebMD and the JED Foundation, 40 percent of over 700 guardians and parents said they did not discuss the potential for developing either anxiety or depression with their children getting ready to attend college. Additionally, most parents reported access to on-campus mental health services was not a factor in choosing a school for their child.

Unfortunately, many teenage and college-aged students struggle with their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students have experienced feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness. 

These problems do not seem to go away once they arrive on campus. Continued studies are showing a decline in mental health across the country among college students. Experts recommend that parents and students take the necessary steps to ensure they have a plan to address mental health issues if they arise.

It is vital for a student with already existing mental health disorders to connect with a counselor prior to arriving on campus. However, it could be beneficial for any student to contact the counseling center and become educated on services provided if needed. It is also important to be aware of other supportive services being offered, such as tutoring, academic advising, student activities, and career services.

Extracurricular activities and clubs also help students connect with others and create a sense of belonging to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students should also be mindful of how they eat, sleep, and socialize. If basic needs are neglected, this can make developing a healthy lifestyle more difficult and lead to a decline in mental health.

Discussing alcohol consumption and setting healthy boundaries is another important conversation that parents need to have with their college-aged children to help them be mentally prepared for new situations.

The transition from high school to college can be life changing and challenging. Students and parents must work together to create a plan that best fits the needs of each student. This plan should include a mental health checklist to protect the emotional well-being of the student. Prioritizing mental health should be something we all strive to achieve.