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Help Your Child With Psychiatric Needs Prepare for College

Start your college mental health checklist now.

Congratulations, parents, on your high school senior's upcoming graduation. By now, your child has received her college acceptances, and by early May she will have made her decision. Your child’s hard work has paid off. Now a different kind of work begins – the preparation for starting college. You and your child will receive several checklists over the next few months: Sign up for orientation. Check. Choose fall classes. Check. Pay the dorm deposit. Check.

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If you have a child who takes medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, you need an additional checklist, maybe your most important one. Let’s call it the college mental health checklist. This checklist will ensure your child has accessible and comprehensive health care from the time she sets foot on campus.

Left untreated, mental health issues can derail a student’s academic career. In fact, students report stress, anxiety, sleep difficulties and depression are the top four issues that have negatively impacted their academic performance. Some students develop mental health problems in college, while others enter school with these issues. One out of three students who come to a college counseling center report prior treatment with psychiatric medication. If your child comes to school already taking these medications, follow these steps to facilitate effective treatment.

1. Encourage your child to continue medication. Many students are tempted to stop medication the summer before college, feeling they can make a fresh start their freshman year. They also worry about the stigma associated with taking medication. But transitions are the worst time to stop medication, as stress levels can be high. I’m not saying a person needs to continue on medication indefinitely. Rather, a student should work closely with a psychiatrist to choose the best time to taper off medication. Medication should never be stopped abruptly. Stopping antidepressants abruptly, for example, can precipitate depressive symptoms as well as physical discomfort.

2. Keep in touch with your child that first semester with phone calls and visits. A faculty person or dorm adviser may not see your child often enough to know if your child is having a problem, whereas you will know by your child’s voice whether something is off. If your son is interrupting you in conversation or his thoughts are all over the place, he may have stopped his ADD medication. You can give him feedback and encourage him to restart medication.

3. Help your child find a psychiatrist on or near campus. Often, students will continue to receive their prescriptions from their home psychiatrist, but it is usually better to transition to a local psychiatrist who can intervene in case a problem or crisis arises. Some colleges will provide ongoing outpatient psychiatric treatment, but other colleges have few or no psychiatrists and will refer students to the community. Some schools may have restrictions regarding the prescription of stimulants, so if your child takes stimulants for ADD, she may need to see a psychiatrist off campus. Review treatment options listed on the websites of the college counseling center and student health care center, and call to obtain referrals if needed.

4. Find individual or group therapy on or near campus. For many students, medication alone is not enough to address their depression or anxiety. If your child is currently seeing a therapist, continuing treatment during the transition could be helpful. Some students will Skype with a therapist from home. A student could also seek individual therapy at the campus counseling center, but parents should be aware that usually this therapy is short term. If you feel your child needs weekly individual therapy for an extended period of time, you can contact the counseling center for an off campus referral. For students who might benefit from group therapy, counseling centers often have support groups or psychoeducation groups that teach ways to manage anxiety or depression.

5. Explore your campus disability resource center. Most campuses have a center where students can meet with a counselor or coach who can help create accommodations to promote learning. For example, a student with ADD might be able to take tests at the disability resource center in a quiet room with extended time. A student with depression might be able to take a reduced course load one semester while he adjusts to a new medication. Students might hesitate to ask for help, so encourage your student to pursue accommodations that will enhance his college experience while allowing him to take care of his mental health.

As the race car driver Bobby Unser once famously said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” Prepare your college student for success by making a mental health checklist. Having ADD, depression, or anxiety don’t have to be roadblocks for attending college and achieving health and happiness in the college years.

©2016 Marcia Morris, All Rights Reserved

Details have been altered to protect patient privacy.

If you’re interested in reading about a particular topic regarding college wellness and your child’s mental health, please email me at

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