It’s common for parents and students to look at statistics when choosing a school, including graduation rate, financial assistance, and post-graduate employment prospects.
The campus is inspected, cafeteria food is analyzed, academic courses are studied, and teachers are graded.
There isn’t a lot of information readily available about mental healthcare at universities. And even though most students report having been given a diagnosis of a mental illness, it’s difficult to compare schools’ offerings.
Maybe that’ s because most people assume that colleges are safe and nurturing environments and that they will have access to the same or even better levels of physical and psychological supports than can be found at their homes.
Many schools promote the idea that one day they’ll be able to pay for their students’ tuition through student loans.
However, most often than not, these promises don’t come true. “I’ve seen so many people go into debt,” says John Dunkle, the former executive director of counseling services at Northwestern University.
Hearing that students at the University of California, Berkeley would be able to receive their entire range of medical and psychological services from just one location, Dunkle was dismay when he heard his group’s guide describe the university’s counseling service as a “one-‐‑stopper.”
“That being said,” he adds, “it’s not really true.”
Campus health programs often fail to communicate their full range of available mental health support options to students and families.
As a result, they may not be able to help students who need them.
To help mitigate some of this frustration and maybe even prevent more desperate scenarios, education professionals say there are a few things parents and students can do to be more proactive about mental health issues on campus.
5 Best Tips to Protect Your Kids’ Mental Health at College
1. Ask lots of questions at the beginning of the process
Many college freshmen experience mental health problems for the very first time when they start college.
According to the Fortune study, most people who receive mental healthcare services before going to college did so before beginning their studies.
A similar number reported receiving treatment after enrolling in school. However, fewer than one in five said they began seeking help during their first year of college.
Parents and students should be asking about a university’s mental health services before they get there.
There isn’t really a national database for parents to look up schools’ mental health resources so the responsibility falls on families to research universities ahead of time.
Students and parents should be asking not just about the ratio of students per teachers, but of students per counselors. They should also ask about the counselor’s style of teaching.
Nearly half of all colleges offer students access to free individual mental health services through their campus counselors.
However, these resources may be limited for students who require longer-term therapies or who have severe psychological issues.
“Families need to start talking about college early,” Dunkle says. “If they are planning ahead, students can succeed at any school.”
2. Expectations for college should be realistic
Wellness centers aren’t always able to treat every student who comes in for help, but they’re often the first place people go when they need help.
Most schools have a limited number of counselors and psychiatrists who are often booked months in advance. They say they’re “almost” full, so they have to turn away patients.
If parents know their child has an issue before school starts, they may want to look for a local therapist instead of going through the school’s health services.
Therapies that allow students to continue treatment from afar are becoming increasingly common.
Parents and kids shouldn’t just look at size when deciding where to send their kid to school. They need to consider factors beyond physical space.
The level of resouces available often depends more on the size of the institution’s endowment and financial means than its overall size.
At the larger public universities, I think that there are lots of free services available on campuses. It’s just a simple supply and demand problem.
3. Understand what your insurance really covers
Before a new college freshman arrives on campus, colleges usually check if he/she has any existing health conditions or requires special coverage.
It’s an ideal time for families and freshmen to explore their options.
Students who are under age 25 can remain covered by their parent’s plan if they live at home.
However, if the child lives outside the household, he or she must find another source of health care. Parents should consider buying an individual policy for their children before they reach age 26.
In addition, students who attend school out-of-state often face challenges finding providers who accept their insurance plans.
Additionally, it‘s worth analyzing what‘s covered by the college healthcare plan. In many cases, these plans don‘t cover off-campus mental heath treatments.
That can be a problem if a student needs to get a private therapist or counsellor for additional sessions.
A third choice worth exploring is a market place plan available through the Affordable Care Act.
Most people who receive mental health treatment use some kind of insurance to cover it, according to a recent study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Of the students surveyed, nearly half reported finding it easy to pay for treatment, while one in 10 had difficulty doing so.
“Help them understand what a co-pay is, what the deductible might be,” Donnelly suggests. They may not realize that they need to see an eye doctor if they get a cold because they don’t pay anything out of pocket until they reach their deductible.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about these issues ahead of time. They might not realize that there could be additional costs involved.
4. Talk about mental health issues
Discussing mental health struggles is not easy but there’s been a lot of progress made in terms of understanding mental illness and the stigma associated with it. However, there’s still a long way to go before we reach full acceptance.
Experts agree that it’s important for us to talk openly about mental health and its impact on our lives.
About half of American students (47%) say they’d tell their families if they were having serious emotional issues, but just under half (49%) say they’d tell close acquaintances instead.
A child who has experienced trauma needs help from someone who understands their situation and knows how to handle them. “Children do a really good job at being like, ‘This is the thing.’ If I just wait for it to be fixed, it will.”
That doesn’t usually work. Sometimes parents just want to drop their grown children off at school and think that everything will be fine. It’s a crapshoot.
5. Don’t limit yourself to just looking at the counseling center
While the campus counselor center may be the hub for mental health support, Dunkle says it’ s important for students and their families to look at other sources of mental health support as well.
Do they have any student organizations or other support groups on campus that could help them?
Culture is also very important, according to Alison Malman, executive director and founder of the college mental health advocacy group ActiveMinds. “It’s not just about increasing the numbers
Even being part of a fraternity or sorority can help. And a number of schools offer freshmen programs, where during the first year of college, they have workshops and events designed specifically for them.
Others offer residential learning environments where people who share a common interest can live together. All of those things can help, Dunkle said.