In my last post, “Advice to Parents: Keeping an Eye on the Emotional Well-Being of Your Student,” I talked about the symptoms of college application stress on students. I also noted that, while some symptoms are fairly normal, other symptoms are more serious. Thus, a parent may want to consider getting outside help.

African american teenager on a sofa reading a bookFor some parents, though, it can be difficult to approach this subject with their student. Especially if they have noticed symptoms of stress that indicate their child’s mental and emotional well-being is in jeopardy. If you are a parent in such a situation, what can you say or do to help your student to be healthy throughout the admission process?

How to Start a Conversation About Mental and Emotional Health with Your Student

It is important that you select a good time to start the conversation and that you stay calm, reasonable, approachable. Try to find a setting (or create one) when your student is relaxed, not frazzled or overwhelmed with something else. Make it a conversation, not an interrogation. Speak kindly and listen with care and empathy.

Here are some suggestions for starting a conversation*:

  • “I have noticed you seem down. Are you doing ok? I am here if you need me.”
  • (If relevant) “We have a family history of mental health problems (or substance abuse, etc.). I would like to talk to you about that. I have some information that can help you be proactive about your overall physical and mental health.”

When your student opens up:

  • Validate their feelings and tell them that their experience is nothing abnormal.
  • Let them know that mental health conditions are common—one in five college students has issues—so they do not feel alone.
  • Advise them that there will be good days and bad ones.
  • Emphasize the importance of regular exercise, sufficient sleep and rest, and a good diet.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help, and assure them that there is no shame in doing so.

Moreover, you would also want to ask your student if you are putting too much pressure on them. Yes, it can be hard to admit that you may have been affecting your child’s mental and emotional health. But it is important to let them know that in this transitional time in their life, it is about their wants and needs, not about yours.

Aside from knowing the warning signs of mental stress and when to seek help, you should also be aware of the possible resources a college can offer in that regard.

How to Assess the Mental Health Resources Available on a College Campus

In addition to helping your student take care of their mental and emotional well-being during the college application process, it is also important that both of you are aware of all available resources.

First, review your healthcare plan and insurance, and make sure your student knows how to use them. Also, as a part of the research of potential schools, see what counselors/therapists are located around the college campuses to which your child may want to apply. And finally, you and your student should check out the mental health resources available on these potential college campuses.

Here is a list of questions* to go over when assessing future schools:

  • Where are mental health services provided?
  • How do you make an appointment for mental health care?
  • Are drop-in services available?
  • How do you access mental health services after hours or in an emergency?
  • What mental health services and programs are available?
  • Are there any fees for mental health services and supports?
  • Are there limits on the type or amount of services available, and if so, will the school connect you with care in the community?

Moreover, because of privacy laws, it is important that you plan in advance which mental health information can be shared by a therapist with you, the parents.

In the end, remember that you need to work together with your student. Be as supportive as you can be in the college application process without taking over. That includes how you approach any potential problems involving their emotional and mental well-being.

My years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant have taught me that applying to college can be a very stressful process. If you would like to know how I can help your student to navigate the challenges successfully, please learn more HERE.

(*Note: The suggestions in this post were borrowed from a college counseling colleague, Casey Parrett.)