Excuse me, can I catch you for just one moment?
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.
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.
- Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).