I live and work in Oxford, MS, a city with a very high population of students. This post was originally published on the Parents of Ole Miss blog in February 2019.
College can be a challenging time for many students. By design, the experience helps them take necessary steps into adulthood, responsibility, and self-awareness. The challenges can be concerning, however, when students struggle under the weight of all those changes in unhealthy ways.
According to research, over half of the college students enrolled today will experience mental or emotional strain on a clinical level at some point during their time as a coed. This becomes even more concerning when paired with the fact that only 15% of them will reach out for the help they need.
If your student called home with flu symptoms, you would immediately know what to do and where to send them for medical help. But what about when the problem is further beneath the surface? How do you know if they are struggling beyond normal levels of stress? What if their homesickness is something more? What if you think they may be depressed, addicted, or unsafe?
Signs of Struggle
Here’s a quick primer on a few common struggles for college students:
Although small and large setbacks can seem like the end of the world for some college students, those feelings usually don’t last long. However, If you have noticed feelings of sadness and hopelessness or uncharacteristic irritability for at least 2 weeks in your college students, they might be showing signs of depression.
Though depression is serious, it is also one of the most common health problems for college students. You should know:
Depression is a medical illness AND it’s treatable.
Early treatment is best.
There are resources available for effective talk therapy or medication management at the University Counseling Center or local practices who see a sizable number of college students like mine and the other therapists at The Wellness Center of Oxford.
If you suspect that your college student may be struggling with depression, encourage them to reach out for help soon. In the meantime, make sure they are eating and getting some fresh air and sunshine if possible. You may also want to encourage them to seek out a friend who can encourage them and keep an eye on them until the clouds begin to part.
Every college student gets worried and stressed at times, especially during mid-terms or finals. But for some stress can be a trigger of deeper psychological conditions, especially in the context of unpredictability and uncontrollability. If stress appears to be limiting the functioning and distress levels in your college student, they may have slipped over the line into anxiety.
The good news is that brief cognitive-behavioral talk therapy, paired with some of the self-care habits mentioned above, can often break the gridlock of anxiety.
If you suspect your child is struggling in this way, encourage them to spend some time breaking away from their work (and their screens). You should also encourage them to see a counselor who can help them reprioritize for their health and ensure that there aren’t deeper issues coming to the surface.
Unfortunately, the college years offer the perfect storm of social anxiety, course load, curiosity, and peer pressure, and many students turn to drug or alcohol abuse as a means to heighten or cope with that experience. That is why college students make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. In fact, those who are enrolled in a full-time college program are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as those who don’t attend college.
Addiction in students is often first witnessed in drastic changes in their mood, behavior, appearance, or hygiene. College students who are slipping into addictive patterns are also often surrounded by a cloud of relational conflict and personal consequences. If you think your student may be struggling with an addiction, encourage them to reach out to a professional for help. A local counselor or another health professional can help them make a plan to get help, let them know about local services which are available, and work with their family to move them along the path of recovery.
Most people with ADHD are diagnosed before college. However, some people may not recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD until they try to balance school work and the freedom of living away from home for the first time. It can be natural to feel unfocused, distracted, overwhelmed, or disorganized when attending college, but if these issues have caused significant problems in the past and are getting in the way of current functioning, the student may have ADHD.
If you notice a severe impairment in your student’s study skills or sense of focus, it may be helpful to reach out for help from a counselor or other professional. Unfortunately, untreated ADHD is one condition that students attempt to treat on their own through unhealthy choices or self-medication. One of these professionals can check to see if a diagnosis is necessary and help them find safe, effective coping skills.
Help is Available
Although this list of common struggles can be intimidating and anxiety-producing in itself, the good news is that help is available in the Ole Miss and Oxford community for those who are struggling. In addition to the services offered on campus, my counseling practice and others at The Wellness Center of Oxford treat college students who are struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, and other transitional and relationship issues every day. Through experienced counseling, medication management, and other services, it is a great partner for parents who are reaching out for help from a distance.
Reach out if you have any questions about how these services might benefit your student during their season in Oxford.