Executive Director and CEO, The Jed Foundation
As many college campuses across the country have switched to a fully online experience, many students are continuing their studies while back home living with their families. This means that college students have lost access to resources and a culture of caring that hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation have created to support student well-being and mental health.
Unfortunately, the mental health of college students has only gotten worse over the last several months. A recent report by Active Minds identified that about 25 percent of students surveyed said that their depression significantly increased during the pandemic. In response, many schools are working to adapt their mental health and suicide prevention approaches to ensure they have comprehensive mental health safety nets to help support students. But the question is, how do you transfer a system that works on college campuses to a home environment?
Let’s start with the research. Data show that supportive relationships and feelings of connectedness are protective factors that can help improve mental health and lower risk for suicide. Now that many students are back at home, families, caregivers, and friends can implement these tips at home to support students during this difficult time.
Developing life skills
Invite your children to learn how to cook a new dish with you or to participate in other activities that both strengthen connection with you and strengthen their ability to live independently and manage unexpected change in healthy ways. Help them to organize their space and schedule so that they can create a routine that supports their academic success, while also preserving core relationships with friends and others they care about and rely on.
It can also be helpful to establish regular patterns related to exercise, healthy eating, and sleep since these have a powerful influence on mental health.
Support Help-Seeking Behavior
Normally, in times of emotional distress, many college students report that they would reach out to campus professionals such as counselors, professors and academic advisors, as well as to friends and classmates. Assure them that they can come to you for support if they are feeling overwhelmed. Try to listen carefully at three levels: the content of what they are saying, the emotions they are feeling, and their behaviors in response to those thoughts and feelings.
Provide Access to Mental Health and Substance Misuse Services
Encourage social connection
Family, friends, and peers can first notice a distressed college-aged child and their need to be connected with professional help. It’s more difficult to notice when one is experiencing extreme anxiety or distress if they are also isolated. Check in with your young adult and encourage them to stay connected to others. Set regular times to talk or have meals together.
Normally in times of emotional distress, many college students report that they would reach out to campus professionals such as counselors, professors, and academic advisors, as well as to friends and classmates. Assure them that they can come to you for support if they are feeling overwhelmed.
We understand that cohabitation can be difficult for the entire family, and a virtual support system, such as Crisis Text Line or TalkSpace, can be helpful. Parents should be aware of local resources, if accessible and affordable. Many campuses have moved their support systems to online platforms that students can still access. Encourage students to review their school’s resource web pages/communications and ask for help from their faculty and campus professionals.
For many, the campus support systems they relied on are no longer in proximity. The uncertainty of knowing when things will go back to normal has understandably taken a toll on the mental health of college students amidst this global pandemic. The good news is that parents, caregivers, friends, and peers can implement these evidenced-based recommendations to provide young adults with the support they need to thrive and succeed.