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1/27/19blog post

mental health in college

Our college students are experiencing an unprecedented level of mental health problems.  A 2017 report by the American College Health Association indicated that in the previous 12 months, 12 percent of students seriously considered suicide, 7.8 percent injured themselves intentionally, 61 percent experienced overwhelming anxiety, and 39 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.

About 30 percent of these kids received professional treatment, with the most frequent issues being anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Kids reported academics, finances, and intimate relationships as being the most problematic.

Many kids who are unable to attend college view it as a tremendous opportunity, not a source of stress. This mental health epidemic is also perplexing for parents, many of whom had very different college experiences. College was typically a relatively carefree time with minimal responsibilities and lots of social interactions.  What has changed so dramatically over the past few generations?

Finances were rated as the highest source of stress.  The cost of a college education has surpassed the inflation rate, resulting in many young people starting careers with significant loan commitments.

The extraordinary level of anxiety and depression experienced by college students is due to more than the cost of an education. I suspect there are two underlying factors.

First, kids are starting college with superior academic skills but minimal psychological competencies. Many kids have been overprotected and underexposed to the real world during their childhood and adolescence.  They leave home ill-equipped to deal with life.

Parents have failed to recognize that the goal of being a good parent is to make yourself unnecessary. Kids need to learn about communication, problem-solving, emotional regulation, and dealing with disappointments.  Overprotected kids today lead to depressed and anxious kids tomorrow.  They need to learn, before leaving for college, how to confront life without the overprotective parent to make unpleasant feelings somehow go away.

 The second factor responsible for this mental health epidemic is the role of social media.  Many experts see a strong correlation between anxiety and emotional investment in technology.  Our kids are digitally connected but emotionally disengaged from real relationships.

Parents of young children can minimize mental health problems later in life for kids by doing the following.

  1. Let your child experience life, including failure and frustration. Scott Hamilton, 1984 Olympic gold medal skater, remarked that he fell 41,600 times during his career. Don’t prevent your child from falling. Rather, teach them how to get up.
  2. Limit technology. Caring relationships are the most important way to deal with life’s stressful events. Help your child navigate the turbulence of childhood friendships. That’s easier to do if you are strong enough to limit their access to technology.