Talking to Your College Kid About Mental Health
College can be a particularly stressful time in a young adult’s life. Having your son or daughter home for the summer offers an opportunity to check in with them and see how they’re doing. These conversations can feel difficult to navigate, but they are an important way of letting your kids know you are there for them. Here are some tips about how to have conversations about mental health in college.
Realize you may be out of the loop. Some students cope with stress by keeping it to themselves. If there is a particularly stressful event or situation going on in their life, they may choose to not fill in their parents in order to avoid added stress for more people than just themselves. Don’t be surprised if they tell you something you weren’t expecting to hear.
Be prepared to listen. Sometimes parents forget that their kids might just want to vent. Communicate with your son or daughter. It’s okay to ask if they want you to get involved, offer advice, or just listen. This will also increase the chances that they feel more comfortable starting these conversations in the future.
Maintain perspective. While it may seem like your son or daughter might be being melodramatic or over-exaggerating, remember that they are in their late teens to early twenties. You do not share the same life experiences, and they have not had the same experiences to compare what they are going through. Any emotions a college student has are valid; be sure to try and approach the conversation with an understanding mindset.
Know how and when to offer outside resources for help. If your son or daughter repeatedly tells you about feeling anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, or comments that are consistently negative, gently suggest some resources to help them work through it with a professional. While most college students do feel anxious or overwhelmed at some point in their collegiate career, perpetual and consistent feelings of anxiety or depression are abnormal and should be addressed.
Remember that this is a hard conversation for your son or daughter to have too. Disclosing personal struggles doesn’t feel good for anybody involved, and emotional vulnerability doesn’t come easy to most. Be gentle, understanding, and compassionate, even if you are surprised or uncomfortable with what you hear. Sort through it together so that you can both understand the other’s perspective.
Having your kids around during the summer can offer a lot of opportunities to check in and see how they are holding up with the added pressures of being in college. Conversations with your son or daughter about mental health can seem daunting or uncomfortable, but they are an important part of maintaining your relationship.