Going to college can be a big life change. Before incoming freshman arrive on campus, experts say they should make a mental health plan.
“Things are changing academically; making new social connections; some people are leaving home to go to college,” said Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on teen and young adult mental health.
“Even those young people who don’t have prior mental health struggles can have a hard time adjusting,” Erickson-Schroth said.
Erickson-Schroth’s advice to those starting college is to think about community and connection, which she says are the keys to good mental health.
“If you have friends and family you’re leaving behind and connections to teachers and coaches, you’re going to have to re-establish those kinds of relationships. So think about maybe clubs you want to join,” Erickson-Schroth said.
And remember to exercise.
“It doesn’t mean you have to join the gym or a sports team. You can do things like yoga, walking, dancing — anything where you’re moving your body,” Erickson-Schroth said.
“Sleep really changes when you go to college. You’re not living at home with your family, where you may have a curfew or a time that you need to go to bed. Now that’s all up to you,” Erickson-Schroth said.
And if something’s not feeling right, reach out for help. Different schools have different mental health services and Erickson-Schroth suggests reaching out with questions before difficulties arise.
“You can say, ‘What types of therapy are available? How many sessions are there? Are they free? Can I use my insurance?'” Erickson-Schroth said.
If students already have a therapist, they should continue treatment to avoid gaps in care.
“Are you going to be sticking with that treatment team? Is your therapist able to see you for Telehealth sessions? Are they licensed in the state where you’re going to school?” Erickson-Schroth said.
Erickson-Schroth encourages parents of first-time college students to make sure their child knows they can reach out if they’re having a hard time.
“You can never tell your kids that you love them enough. Say it over and over again. Let them know that no matter what’s going on with them, they can always come to you.”