What You Might Not Know About Your College-Aged Child

Excuse me, can I catch you for just one moment?

Getting HelpYour child is off to college tomorrow. How exciting! What adventures to be had!  I’m sure that you will be lonely, but then you will think about how happy your child is.

But what if your child isn’t happy? How do you tell if it is the normal freshman blues, or something more serious? What if your child’s unhappiness is more like depression or anxiety?

Please, why are you walking away? Oh, I understand. You don’t need to hear about mental illnesses. Your child was top of his high school class, popular, participated in sports and clubs.  You and your child have a wonderful relationship. You’ve spoken openly about drugs and alcohol. You expect a little experimentation, but your child will be careful.

Please, don’t leave. Your child might never have an issue, but her best friend might need your child’s understanding and help.

But, before we help your child’s friend, consider this: is there is someone in your family who struggles with addiction or mental illness? If so, then your child is at risk. It doesn’t matter what you have discussed, or what promises your child has made.  Being an addict or having mental illness is not a choice. Often, it is in college when the first symptoms of addiction and mental illness appear.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Talk openly about addiction and mental illness. You’ve probably talked about drugs and alcohol, but make sure you also talk about your family history with addiction and mental illness.
  • Call your son or daughter regularly and talk.  Make this an expectation, not an option.
  • If your child avoids your calls, is always tired, says they don’t get much sleep, sounds sad or hyper-alert, it might be the beginning of larger issues. Keep the communication going and trust your instincts. If you have read this far, you might be looking for more help than I can provide.  Here’s a link to National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) article about what to do to help college students cope with mental illness.
  • When it comes to drugs and alcohol, peer pressure can be fatal. When someone says they need to abstain, teach your child to respect and support that person’s decision. Watching a beloved friend’s mental capacity deteriorate is scary and stressful.  If your new student is faced with this situation, NAMI and the college’s health center will have resources to help.
  • If your student decides to go for counseling, ask him o sign the HIPAA1 and FERPA2 agreements.  Without these releases, you cannot be part of your child’s health care team. Without the signed HIPAA agreement, the provider might not speak with you.  However, HIPAA does not prevent your communication; although it is one-sided, at least you can help your child by communicating family history, and behavioral changes.
  • There is research linking marijuana use with mental illness.  When you know your family history includes breast cancer, you take positive steps to prevent breast cancer. Even if the steps are in the early stages of proof, if they are healthy choices, you encourage them.  When addiction or mental illness is snaking through your family, make sure that your child knows that choosing drugs might also mean choosing depression, anxiety, addiction, and even more significant illnesses. Many talented men and women, some of my favorite entertainers, have succumbed in the end to their addictions and illnesses.
Blog for Mental Health

Click Here to Link to Canvas of the Minds

You have been kind enough to listen and, lucky you, your family doesn’t have these illnesses in its gene pool. Your child is (hopefully) going to be safe from addiction and mental illness.  But if not, there are resources to help.  They can be hard to find, and it is difficult to navigate the system, but you are not alone.

Earlier I mentioned that many people have succumbed to their illness, but many more have led successful and fulfilling lives.  By catching these illnesses at their onset your son or daughter has a better chance of making it through and finding their own version of success.

Copyright                 Disclaimer

  1. Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  2. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).



About Barbara Rath

Enjoy reading, writing, hiking, hangin' with family, friends and my dogs, watching soccer (Go Breakers), baseball, football. Favorite foods are coffee, chocolate, and artichokes. Always thinking of new stuff to do and then not doing it.
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7 Responses to What You Might Not Know About Your College-Aged Child

  1. Pingback: Lost Children | Born Screaming

  2. Ellen Maybe says:

    This post is spot on. My family has a history of mental illness, and still, we were caught off guard when our 20 year old son had to withdraw from his junior year of college and 4 months later was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As we continue to attend a family support group at Skyland Trail, in Atlanta, where he received treatment, there is a never ending stream of surprised parents that have wonderful, brilliant children (often boys but not always), and that those bright children would have a mental illness never even crossed their minds.

    • Barbara Rath says:

      Thank you so much for commenting. I saw your message a few days ago, but I was not in a place where I could respond. It is so difficult to watch these young men and women, many whom are incredibly intelligent, struggle to get through each day. Right when they are ready to take on the world, the very brain that brought them so far, makes life a brilliant mess. I hope that you are holding up through it all. I know that the Family Support Group has been a lifesaver for our family and for our friends’ families.

  3. Pingback: Toss the Typewriter – What You Might Not Know About Your College-Aged Child | The Official Blog For Mental Health Project

  4. Great post, Barbara. I’m sure you have helped a lot of people today!

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