Welcome to The Mental Health Series #1
First off, meet, Haley:
Hi everyone! Before we get started, we would love to introduce you to our newest writer on board, Haley Weske, an all-star college student from University of California, Santa Barbra (UCSB). Haley is very passionate about mental health and social justice, looking to establish a career in these fields. Haley is also a very talented artist and paints in her free time. And, we thought that she would be the perfect addition to our team, as she is studying in the mental health field and would love to share her helpful knowledge with our amazing fellow readers. Yay! :)
Next, let's talk mental health:
Below, is Haley's research and first blog post on The AEF Blog as we begin our Mental Health Series posts. AEF's Mental Health Series will be a series of highly helpful blog posts concentrating on mental health for parents and kids of all ages. We are going to cover everything from the little ones' anxiety with firsts, pre-teen/teen issues, college student wellbeing, and mama's postpartum depression and more. So, stay tuned as you all are not alone out there!
Today's specific topic by Haley dives into anxiety and uneasiness of first year college students and how you can help your kids with this big first step into adulthood. Haley has some amazing research and advice, complimented by fresh experience as a current college student herself. Let's take a look!
Finally, let's get into the thick of it:
Haley's 5 Mental Health Tips That Parents Should Encourage Their Incoming College Student(s) To Practice
But first, some solid facts...
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, representing a 40 percent increase since 2009.” - New York Times
“Once they arrive on campus, these problems don’t go away. A survey conducted in March by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found that undergraduate students were more than twice as likely to rate their overall mental health as “poor” (22 percent) versus “excellent” (9 percent).” - New York Times
“The Healthy Minds Network, in association with the American College Health Association, revealed in a 2020 study that college students reported "lower levels of psychological wellbeing post-pandemic relative to Fall 2019." Further, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine found in a November 2020 study that nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ+ college students "were experiencing psychological distress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic." In February 2021, a Boston University survey indicated that 83 percent of 33,000 students felt their mental health "negatively impacted their academic performance." - Seventeen
So, mental health and taking care of oneself is very crucial for a college student. Here are 5 tips (plus some bonus tips at the end!) that can help your child transition to college:
1) Encourage positive self-talk
Number one on the list is encouraging positive self-talk and discouraging negative self-talk! Negative self talk has been found to reinforce “anxiety and depression, cause an increase in stress levels while also lowering levels of self-esteem” (Proactive H+M). These feelings can lead to a lack of motivation, feelings of helplessness, and even isolation.
According to Mayo Clinic, below are some identifiable forms of negative self-talk that may be noticeable in your child:
- Filtering: Only looking at the negative in a situation and filtering out the positives.
- Personalizing: Blaming oneself for a bad situation.
- Catastrophizing: Anticipating the worst.
- Saying oneself SHOULD do something: Blaming oneself for not doing everything they think they should do.
- Magnifying: Creating a bigger deal out of a situation than need be.
- Perfectionism: Keeping impossible standards for oneself and getting angry at oneself for not reaching them.
- Polarizing: Only seeing things as good or bad, no middle ground.
Once negative self talk is identified in your child, that’s when positive progress can begin! So, take a seat with your child, talk with openness and understanding, and then get to work on the positive!
Here are some ways to practice positive self talk:
- Teach your child to not say anything that they wouldn’t say to someone else! They wouldn’t hold impossible standards for someone else or blame them for every single little thing, so don’t do it to oneself! Just “be gentle and encouraging with yourself” (Mayo Clinic).
- Have them remember everything to be grateful for! This can help in pinpointing the positives in any given situation instead of filtering them out!
- Have them practice positive self-affirmations. Examples are “I am loved” or “I am beautiful just the way I am!” Speaking these positive affirmations out loud will encourage the mind to believe it.
- As a parent, you can even practice these forms of positive self talk around your child to motivate them to do the same!
Practicing positive self talk not only alleviates someone’s mental state, but it can also help with physical aspects too! Such as “reduced risks of cancer, infections, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and creating an overall better psychological and physical well-being!” (Mayo Clinic) Looks like a measure worth taking!
2) Encourage setting their own goals
Next up on the list is encouraging your first time college students to set their own goals whether it be for college itself, their career path, bucket list items, you name it! According to Positive Psychology, “setting goals helps trigger new behaviors, helps guide your focus and helps you sustain that momentum in life.” There are plenty of ways to do this but here are some cool ideas:
Have them create a vision board - Creating a vision board is so fast and easy to do, but at the same time, very helpful for organizing goals and an aspirational lifestyle! This can be done using well-known websites/apps like Pinterest or Canva. Canva has Dream Vision Board, which has ready to-go templates and fonts at your disposal, along with lots of affirmations! I also recommend the Perfectly Happy Vision Board app which combines moving images, positive affirmations, and emotional music to help your college students reach their goals faster! Any above option is a beneficial one. And, they can even have their vision board as their lock screen on their phones so that they are constantly reminded of what they are striving towards!
Have them create a bucket list of their goals and/or what to do during their first year of college - They can easily create a bucket list digitally on their phone's Notes, or a similar app. BUT, having your college student physically write down their goals can help stimulate the motivation to actually go out and conquer their bucket list!
Your college student can easily jot down their bucket list on a piece of paper and tape it to their desk or hang it in their dorm room as a reminder! They can even write it down on an aesthetically pleasing and inspiring notepad or journal. Feel free to check out the positivity-themed stationary we offer!
Shop the Positivity Pen Set HERE.
Shop the Choose Happy Planner HERE.
Shop the Choose Happy Notepad HERE.
Have consistent one-on-one talks with your college kids (without being too invasive or pushy). As a parent, you can have conversations with your kids about their goals and check up on how they're doing. This will help them figure out exactly what they want to do and also give you a bit of reassurance and relief that your child will be alright! Discussing your kids' personal goals with them can strengthen your relationship with them, and create a stronger parent-child bond.
3) Encourage healthy wellness habits
Another super helpful tip is to encourage your child to practice healthy wellness habits! There are so many different wellness habits varying from diet to physical exercise to even mental health exercises. Here are a few ideas:
Have them practice mindfulness - Mindfulness is the act of being fully aware and present of where we are, what we are doing, and what is going on. And, not getting overwhelmed by the situation (Mindful). When your child feels upset, encourage them to voice their emotions. Encourage them to practice being aware of how they are feeling and then, evaluate the reason behind their feelings. Encourage also being mindful of WHEN they get upset or anxious. These are all key points in being mindful.
Notice signs of anxiety (as identified by Choosing Therapy):
- Nervousness or unease
- Inability to maintain focus
- Uncontrollable worry
- Sleep disturbances
- Missing classes/assignments
Once the signs are noted, your child can better proceed to a healthier solution and be proactive instead of reactive. When we are aware of our emotions and the reason why, we can then proceed to find a solution to our problems instead of spending time being upset over them! Having them write down their worries or feelings in a self-care journal can help with becoming aware since they can visually jot down and read what they are feeling. This also helps with the confirmation of their feelings, which leads to acceptance and finding solutions.
Get them a self-care journal - Getting a self-care journal is not only helpful for documenting their feelings but it is also a great place to organize self-care habits and thoughts! Feel free to check out our Sunshine and Cheer Journal to conveniently get started on their mindfulness journey!
Encourage your child to meditate - Meditation is the act of taking the time to be aware of where we are and what’s going on. This usually starts with paying attention to our bodies. Focusing on how the body feels, allows for the internal rhythms to calm us which in turn relaxes our physical and mental being! There are different types of meditation such as sitting, walking, laying down, etc. but all include deep breathing exercises to calm the mind.
Meditating and practicing mindfulness with your first-time college student can be helpful for both you and your child. To just take a second out of the day to care for yourselves together. Encouraging them to practice this with friends can also make the activity more enticing to do! The more they practice, the more it will turn into a healthy habit that they can utilize for typical college stressors.
Encourage a better sleep schedule - It is important to have your college student be aware of how many hours a day they sleep, as it is crucial in determining the day that they will have. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “advised one teenage client (who had slept an average of five hours a night during his senior year) to begin getting eight hours of sleep each night” and once he did, he not only noticed an increase in efficiency and productivity, but also a more positive mood throughout the day as well. (New York Times).
Other benefits of a good nights sleep according to Health.gov include:
- Lower risk for serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease
- The maintenance of a healthy weight
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Clear thinking
- Making better and smarter decisions
Have them limit screen time - Technology is such an important part of our children's lives in this day and age, but being exposed to it for long periods of time is actually damaging and dangerous. A study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that “spending less than two hours per day of recreational screen time (such as browsing the internet, playing video games, and using social media) was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, especially among girls” (Science Daily). Reducing the amount of screen time will greatly affect the way your college kid feels throughout the day and increase their energy for more physically rewarding activities and tasks!
Motivate them to exercise - Overall, “regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, and getting good amounts of sleep (about 8 to ten hours a night) will help reduce the symptoms of anxiety,” according to Dr. B. Janet Hibbs, Ph.D., a family psychologist and co-author of The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years. But she also stresses self-acceptance and cutting yourself some slack if you aren’t able to be consistent with your healthy wellness habits (Seventeen).
4) Encourage your child to get involved on campus
A lot of new students struggle with the transitional period into college life because they initially feel like that haven't found where they belong yet, so this makes it difficult to enjoy their primary time in college. “College students report that loneliness and isolation and feeling like they don’t fit in — those kinds of emotions are very common and challenging in first year of college,” said John MacPhee, Chief Executive of The Jed Foundation (New York Times). With all these feelings, it is easier to get homesick because of the lack of comfort that's usually found at home. Encouraging your child to get out there, meet new people, and/or join a club that they are interested in, can really help them feel more comfortable!
Here are some ideas on how your college kid can get out there:
Join a club or organization - Joining a club that your child is interested in not only helps your child expand their respective interests, but also enables them to meet new people with the same interests. In doing so, they are more likely to make friends that they genuinely enjoy spending time with! And, they get to mingle with them on a weekly basis! Joining an organization where students can express their feelings freely can also be helpful since they can meet other students with the same concerns/worries, which can also spark great connections!
Students of color struggle with this a bit more as they might feel a little more disconnected versus other students. According to Dr. Ebony O. McGee, a professor of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, college environments breed alienation so she recommended seeking out spaces of comfort and understanding. “Go to places and spaces where you are affirmed and celebrated, and not simply tolerated,” she said. It could be an extracurricular activity or a religious organization — anywhere you might find other marginalized students of color” (New York Times).
Join a sport - If your child enjoys being active, you should encourage them to look at joining an intramural sport on campus or just a team sport within the community. This not only helps with staying active, but again, more potential to make more friends! Bonding over exercises and/or a sport your child is passionate about can blossom into a great connection!
Find a job - Working a job during college, especially your first year, doesn’t sound like something that would benefit a new student, but most colleges hire students to work on campus so it’s more convenient for them. Hello, work-study! Plus, a lot of schools restrict student’s work hours so that they aren’t being overworked while doing full time school! Working somewhere on campus exposes them to so many other college students where they can spark up conversations and create friendships.
Attending college events - Encourage your child to attend ALL the college events that they are able to fit into their schedule! Their school will usually host food or activity events throughout each school week to keep the students engaged, connected, and give them a little fun through stressful times. Students usually have lots of fun at big sporting events where all the students can rally up as a community to cheer on their college team bring home the gold! Cheering with other like-minded people will create a better sense of belonging during their time at college.
Leaning on those they have now - It is important for your college student to lean on the people they have now and maintain those relationships, especially for whenever they are feeling down. This includes current dorm mates, friends, family! It can help remind your child that they have a support system and that they are not alone even though they may feel like it at times during this new transitional stage.
5) Research + Contact College counseling / therapy services
Lastly, researching and contacting your child’s therapy and counseling services will be the best way your child can get immediate help upon arriving for their first year of college, especially if they're already diagnosed with a mental health concern or emotional disorder. Before arriving, you and your child should research the mental health resources that are provided by either the school or the nearby community. This way, you know that your child will be able to properly and healthily handle any mental issues that may arise or worsen during their transitional phase into the college life. You can even keep in contact with these resources, preferably the school’s counseling and therapy services, and get the answers you need for your child. “The Jed Foundation, a suicide prevention organization that aims to protect the emotional health of teenagers and young adults, suggests asking the following of the school’s counseling center:
- What services are provided?
- Are there a maximum number of sessions allowed per year?
- Is there a counselor on call 24 hours a day? If not, what after-hours emergency services are available?
- What accommodations are available through disability services for students with emotional disorders?
- What is the school’s policy on taking leaves of absence?
- Are there other types of support available, like text lines or resident advisers?”
The answers you receive can also help determine which college your child will consider attending if their issues are more severe. It is important to mention that people of color and minorities face more hardships when trying to find relief. “Those seeking a provider of color may have to take on the extra burden of trying to find a therapist off campus,” said Dr. McGee. While this is inconvenient, finding a provider of color can be done through websites or social media. Here are some supportive therapy services for minorities from Healthline:
BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective): They advocate for a world without barriers for black healing through education, peer support, and being heard.
Therapy for Latinx: provides a list of therapists identifying as Latinx or POC or someone who has worked closely with POC and understands their specific needs and situations.
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network: They work at the intersection of movements for social justice and mental health that “helps queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) locate QTPOC mental health practitioners across the country”
Inclusive Therapists: They are an organization committed to “decolonizing and destigmatizing mental healthcare. Its directory connects POC with culturally affirming and responsive client care.”
6) An Extra Tip
A helpful extra tip that you can utilize to prepare your child for college is discussing alcohol and drug usage. Being open about this topic will create a sense of comfort between you and your child and will also help with your trust in them when they leave the nest! Dr. Anderson said, “many high school students are already drinking alcohol socially with friends, he added, “and in college they may feel pressure to binge drink or “pre-game.” But teenagers can prepare mentally for this and other types of circumstances — including drug use and sexual situations — by setting boundaries now” (New York Times). By setting boundaries now, your college kids will know how to set their own limits when they are on their own to avoid any negative situations.
7) One more note: Don't forget to give them their space
As much as we know you love and care for your child more than anything else in the world, sometimes it's necessary to let them feel FREE. While, they are your child, they are still a human being and need their space and time to grow into the person they want to become. Restricting your child will only motivate them to rebel. So, giving them the space they need to explore themselves will also be beneficial for their mental state.