How to ease the transition to college when mental health is a concern

How to ease the transition to college when mental health is a concern


The transition from high school to college can be difficult, especially for students with mental health issues. But these days there are ways to make it easier.

“In recent years, and especially since the pandemic began, campus resources for all students have increased dramatically, and before they come to campus, students need to connect to the resources they need,” said Amy Gatto, director of research and evaluation at Active Minds, an organization committed to making talking about mental health on campus as natural as talking about physical health.

A 2021 American College Health Association survey of nearly 100,000 college students found that 16 percent of college men and 33 percent of college women were diagnosed with anxiety, and 14 percent of college men and 25 percent of college women were diagnosed with anxiety. depression.

A study published in June by the Healthy Minds Network — which researches student mental health — involving more than 350,000 students on 373 campuses between 2013 and 2021 found that the number of students meeting the criteria for one or more mental health problems in 2021 had doubled since 2013.

Pandemic uncovered mental health gap among college students, study says

That came as no surprise to Sarah Lipson, the network’s principal investigator and lead author of the study.

“Living in a new environment and away from home can often create overwhelming and stressful conditions, and recently we added the stress of the pandemic to that,” said Lipson, a professor of health policy in Boston University’s School of Public Health. For students with a diagnosed mental illness, she adds, their college success strategy should include creating and executing a mental health plan (see “10 Tips for Moving to Campus”).

Jaiden Singh, 20, an up-and-coming junior at the University of Arizona who struggles with academic stress and anxiety, is a prime example of someone who did the necessary prep work before landing on campus.

Singh, who was a member of Active Minds in high school, said the fact that the University of Arizona had an Active Minds department was “a key factor” in his choice to go to school there. In addition, before entering university in the fall of 2020, he studied the website of the university’s counseling center, where he found a wide selection of services, including individual and group counseling.

During his first year, classes were remote due to the pandemic. Singh lived at home, but he remembers appreciating an online webinar that helped students reframe their situation.

“Hopefully I could anticipate the next semester on campus and be glad I had a safe place in the meantime,” he says.

Children’s mental health is declining. But that was before the pandemic.

Since moving to the campus in the fall of 2021, Singh has used one-on-one counselling, among other things.

“I found the intake process … very easy, which was a big factor, and is for many students, because it can be difficult to access services until recently,” Singh says. In Arizona, the counseling center offers a range of services, including sessions on relaxation skills, performance anxiety, homesickness, and time management.

Treatment and medicines

For students continuing therapy and/or medicine in college and “who may need to switch doctors and pharmacies, it’s essential that these transitions happen before term…so that students can avoid interruptions in their care just when their new, exciting college experience it begins,” says Shabana Khan, a physician and director of telehealth for the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York.

Khan, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Telepsychiatry, says changing telehealth rules make it especially critical for students attending college in another state to find out if they can continue care with their current treatment provider. clinicians.

After the Health and Human Services Department declared a public health emergency in January 2020, many states and insurers expanded the types of healthcare providers that can see their patients online, as well as the types of telehealth services that can be provided.

In some cases, state-specific changes allowed all types of health care professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, to see patients online, even when a patient had left the state.

Pandemic leads colleges to review and improve mental health efforts

Today, however, some insurers have started rolling back telehealth coverage, and many providers concerned about the end of flexibility (HHS renewed its 90-day rules in July) have stopped seeing patients remotely. Patients should discuss with their health care providers whether they can continue care before entering university, Khan says. “Council guidance centers can help transition students to new practitioners,” she adds.

One evening this spring, hundreds of students from New York City-based Yeshiva University attended a discussion hosted by the university’s Active Minds chapter, in which three students spoke about their mental health journeys. The director of the university’s counseling center, Yael Muskat, was proud and not surprised.

“We are working with our students to make mental health a safe topic to discuss and seek help on our campuses,” Muskat says. Like many campuses, Yeshiva not only relies on students to seek the counseling center, but also actively promotes its services, including depression screening events, drop-in anxiety groups, workshops and speakers.

During semester orientations, student volunteers and staff give a warm welcome to anyone interested in learning more about the center.

Are you feeling down, tell someone

Mental health conversations have become more common since the pandemic began, so find that person who feels safe to talk to, says Kelly Davis, associate vice president of peer and youth advocacy at Mental Health America, which connects people with mental health resources.

Students with mental health problems should use their first days on campus to introduce themselves to resident counselors, counselors, and other students they meet in dorm rooms, classes, and the dining hall. These steps will help them develop a community for sharing their college experience and reaching out when college life starts to seem overwhelming, Davis says.

10 tips for your move to campus

1. Study campus options before you leave home. Students with a mental health diagnosis should ask their provider if they can continue their sessions in person or remotely, says Shabana Khan, a physician and director of telehealth for the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York. If not, ask the provider for advice on whether you should continue counseling with a new provider in college; if the answer is yes, please contact the campus counseling center for guidance.

2. View your health insurance. In general, insurance determines which providers you can see and how much you pay for visits and medications. Keep in mind that some students switch insurance plans when they start college, says Kelly Davis, associate vice president of peer and youth advocacy at Mental Health America, including switching to a cheaper college health plan. If campus providers charge a fee and don’t purchase your insurance, ask if the counseling center offers free or cheaper care and if there are local providers who can take your insurance. Also research whether local mental health clinics provide services for free or on a sliding scale. If possible, have your current provider speak with your prospective provider “to catch up with them about your treatment,” Khan says.

3. Find the counseling center early. Introduce yourself to the staff, especially if you’re transitioning to on-campus care. Have the center’s contact numbers handy in case of an emergency for you or a classmate, or if you have any questions.

4. Have a medication plan. According to the Healthy Minds Network, a quarter of college students use mental health medications. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the medications you take and anything you need to change or add before you go to school and fill prescriptions before you go to campus. Once in college, contact the campus counseling center for help obtaining emergency supplies or help starting prescriptions at a new pharmacy.

5. Prepare for emergencies. Ask the counseling center staff who to call if you feel stressed, overwhelmed, unsafe, or could harm yourself or others, says Victor Schwartz, senior associate dean for wellness and student life at the City University of New York Medical School. Many campuses also widely post about 988, a national suicide prevention hotline launched in July. Students can call or text 988, or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

6. Open yourself up to others. Since the start of the pandemic, conversations about mental health have become more common, so build on that. Campus officials want you to thrive and know that the transition can be difficult, Davis says. “In your early days, say hello to resident advisors, teachers, mentoring staff, classmates online so that you can start developing a community and feel comfortable sharing how you feel.”

7. Use other services. Students with mental health issues and a diagnosed learning disability or executive functioning problem should also share that data with the academic support center, says Saul Newman, associate dean for undergraduate education in the School of Public Affairs at American University in DC. place before the start of a semester,” adds Newman. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a class or assignment as the semester progresses and think you can’t complete it, contact the professor as early as possible, Schwartz says.

8. Join us. Making new friends is the best way to reduce stress and relieve anxiety and depression, Schwartz says. Elizabeth Lunzer, 21, who graduated from UCLA this year and was a member of the school’s Active Minds division, says her involvement gave her a safe place to discuss her fears with people who understood how she felt and cared.

9. Find your consulting space. Since the start of the pandemic, many people have switched to remote therapy, even if the caregiver and patient are on the same campus. Students should make sure they have a private space for the sessions, says Anushka Gupta, 19, a sophomore at New York University. If your room is not an option, ask the guidance center, library, or student activity center if there is a room you can have to yourself for sessions once a week.

10. Parents can be a support system for some. Parents, guardians and relatives are not necessarily notified of health problems when a student is 18 years of age or older. If a student wants to involve parents and others in their care, they can ask the counseling center how to lift the confidentiality provisions to keep them informed.