Students of all ages, from pre-K to grad school, face challenges with their mental health as well as issues that can affect it. Common difficulties include academics, family situations, and personal problems. It’s crucial for students, and anyone else, to seek professional help if they experience mental health issues. While there are many aspects of mental health that can only be treated by professionals, parents and families have the power to help their children. It can begin with parental awareness of children’s behaviors and recognizing when their children are experiencing difficulties.
Understanding Mental Health
Students are vulnerable to higher stress levels related to the demands from school, including adjusting to changes related to online learning during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control found in 2021 that 1 in 6 students experience a form of mental health disorder. Although any minor can experience any form of mental health symptom, anxiety symptoms are much more likely among school-age children, peaking in the ages of 12 to 17 years of age, according to the CDC. Luckily, parents can play an important support factor:
- Pay close attention to your child’s eating and sleeping habits. Major changes in them can indicate a need to seek professional help.
- Actively monitor academic performance and your child’s experience in school.
- Actively listen to your child’s concerns. Stress is unavoidable, but the impact of parental and family love is a great protective factor.
- Schedule family or parent-child bonding times. Spending moments with your child can be a great source of joy for you both. Seek activities you and your child enjoy.
Similarly, college students experience psychological distress and are at higher risk for mental health symptoms that could last throughout the completion of their degree. For example, the early 20s are a likely onset age for many mental illness symptoms, with anxiety and panic disorder symptoms being the most common — followed by depression symptoms, according to a 2015 study. Once again, college stressors may be unavoidable, but the family plays a vital role in decreasing the impact of college life afflictions. Here are some tips to help your college-bound family members:
- Talk about mental health. Speaking freely and non-judgmentally about mental health with your family can increase the bond and foster a sense of trust to disclose afflictions.
- Talk about care providers. It may be beneficial to have a list of trusted health providers to seek mental health services from. During the pandemic, telehealth services are also available and are easily accessible.
- Talk about on-campus health services. If the college has mental health services, encourage seeking such services when needed.
Seeing the Signs
It’s pivotal that parents recognize any changes in their child’s behaviors to get them help with their mental help. Common symptoms of a student/child struggling with their mental health include:
- Withdrawing from social interactions
- Giving away possessions or saying goodbyes to loved ones
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Drastic weight loss or gain
- Lack of concentration
- Major changes in academic performance
- Major changes in sleep patterns
- Excessive worrying
- Feeling restless
- Anger and irritability
How do I help my child cope with mental health issues?
As a parent or caregiver, you will play an important role in your student’s treatment. To care for your student and yourself, you should:
- Talk to a health professional about your concerns with your child’s behavior.
- Ask your student’s health provider for more information about the behaviors and symptoms that worry you.
- Enroll in parent training programs related to mental illness.
- Ask your child about their feelings and actively listen to what they say.
- Communicate in a straightforward manner and be aware to speak at an appropriate level to your child’s age and development.
Get Help for Your Family
Resources are available to provide mental health care to your child or to access information about mental health. Below are some resources available to you. As always, in case of emergencies, call 9-1-1.
Tropical Texas Behavioral Center: (956) 289-7000
National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Self-harm crisis text line: text HELLO to 741741
Parent Project: parentproject.com/mental-health/
Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Josue Cerroblanco, Sandra Chapa, Marcos Valdez, Andy Torres, Frances Morales, Amanda Palomin and Dr. Alfonso Mercado.