National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Now that my daughter is in college, I cannot just sit on her bed and talk. But these are the years when it is important to continue to communicate, particularly around mental health — 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin by age 24. Some of the common warning signs include: seeming sad or withdrawn for over two weeks; drastic changes in mood or sleeping habits; repeatedly and excessively using drugs and alcohol; seeing, hearing or believing thing that are not real; or any form of self-harm or planning to do so.
If you have a college-aged child, and you notice any of these signs or just feel that their behavior has changed in a significant way, it’s essential to have a conversation with them about their mental health.
Get the conversation started by asking gentle questions such as, “Have you been able to find a balance between school, your social life and taking care of yourself?” You can also begin in a compassionate way. For example: “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down. Are you doing ok? I’m here if you need me.”
Validate their response
As soon as they open up, validate their feelings. Let them know you believe them, and it’s not their fault. Treat their mental health symptoms as you would any other health challenges. This will encourage them to talk more openly.
Make a plan
As a parent, it’s important for you to be involved in managing your child’s mental health care because early intervention improves outcomes. Help them find a counselor on campus and ensure they have a plan for any possible crisis situations. You can also emphasize the importance of self-care, even when it means giving up other activities or social time.
Don’t stop at this first conversation. Set up a time to check-in with your young adult regularly. I may not be able to go upstairs and check on my daughter the way I used to, but as a parent, I can still support her through this stage of life.