In his blog, “Mental Health: Break the Silence – Break the Stigma”, Scott S. Garbini M.Ed shatters the myths and fallacies of mental health. Follow his newest series and discover the truths about mental illness; the signs, symptoms, and solutions.
So you’ve determined that you, or your child, needs more help than you can give them through talks at the kitchen table, or a hug. What do you do? There are many different resources, agencies, and programs of which you can avail yourself, but wading through them can be overwhelming.
The first step is to get clear idea of what issue your child is having. Is it a medical issue, an academic issue, or an emotional issue? Before we go any further: Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIAN, so please remember that this blog is designed to advise, not diagnose.
Be clear on your insurance coverage, or the insurance coverage offered by your child’s school. If your child is going overseas for a term abroad, before they leave, talk to your insurance company in advance, to find out what kind of overseas coverage you have, if any. Hopefully, you will have taught your child how and where to fill any necessary reoccurring prescriptions. Now, if your child is having a medical issue, most colleges have a nurse or physician’s assistant on staff. They will have clearly listed days or hours for your child to be able to see them. If the issue is an actual medical emergency, send them to the nearest emergency room or 24-hour clinic. Remind your child; basic rules of thumbs are if something is bleeding, and can’t be stopped, or there is a foreign object somewhere, or there is clearly some angle on a bone which should be straight, then they should go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. They probably know many of these things, but reviewing them before they leave is definitely recommended. In the moment of any medical issue, they will then have this knowledge to look back upon.
If, through discussions, you determine this is an academic issue, there are numerous avenues that can be taken. Due to FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act), you cannot do these things for your child. But, at this stage, your child should be doing this themselves. Are they so far behind the deadlines that they are overwhelmed and now feeling “stuck?” Are they not understanding the material? Encourage them to talk to their instructors and ask if their work is late, missing, or incomplete. Are they attending class, and on time? Students often assume that their professors will come to them and explain why they are not being successful. While in high school that may have been true, in college students are expected to take the initiative and responsibility to monitor their own successes and challenges. If they do not take a proactive approach with their academics, they could wind up in a very deep hole before they realize it, and a small academic issue could become much bigger than necessary.
If your child has a diagnosed learning difference, there may be services already in place at your child’s school. Before they start the year, find out what they are and how your child can avail themselves of them. These academic centers or services are becoming more and more commonplace. In addition, there are academic tutors, success centers, and even teaching assistants in some cases who can also help your child. Being made aware of these resources before the year begins can help alleviate many issues from possibly even occurring. Also, it is very important for your child to communicate any significant learning differences to their professors at the start so that they, too, are aware.
Now, if your child’s difficulties are tied in with their emotions, you need to discover a few things before moving forward. Is the issue tied in with something academic or personal? If it is academic, by using some of the strategies outlined above, the issue may be eliminated. When it is, it would be a good opportunity to take the time to help them make an action plan to keep it from reoccurring. Remember to reinforce to them occasionally that you are proud of them for taking proactive steps and how wonderful it is that they have tackled another challenge of independence.
If their difficulty is personal, discovering whether their emotionality is tied into a current circumstance or an internal struggle they are having is crucially important to know. A child who has an ill parent, or other family member, or who has lost a close relative or friend, could be struggling with concentration and feelings of deep sadness. A child who has a pre-existing mental health condition (i.e. – depression or bipolar disorder) needs to have supports in place before beginning school to make sure that they are able to stay on a steady course. As previously discussed, making sure they know how to keep any needed medications filled, and keep to any scheduled psychotherapy sessions will help them to be successful.
Now, your child is acting differently than you’ve seen them in the past. You talk to them and find out that it’s not just a “bad day” or even a “bad week” – it is something more. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s something. Hopefully, your relationship is strong enough with your child that you can let them know that you love them and you are concerned. You need to ask them those probing questions that can give you more information. Once you get the information, you may not know what to do with it. First and foremost, reassure them that life can get really challenging and there are people who can help them navigate their way. There is no shame in seeking help from someone who is able to look at challenges or anxieties in an objective manner and find solutions and strategies. This is what they do for a living, and if there wasn’t a need, they wouldn’t exist. The potential helplessness or embarrassment they may feel needs to be eliminated right away in order for them to be able move forward.
There are some questions that only you, as their parent can answer. Once a resource is found, will your child use it? Can this issue be held off and dealt with until your child comes home for vacation? Is it a serious enough issue that they need immediate psychiatric help, as they have talked about hurting themselves or others? Only you, as the parent, can gauge the urgency of their issue.
Mental health services vary by state, but most colleges have a mental health resource. They may have personnel who can directly work with your child and/or refer them to someone local. If your child prefers not to speak to anyone on campus, you can offer to help them find someone in the area who can. You can go to visit and help them do so, but if they say they can handle it, let them. Make regular check-ins on how that is progressing and be sure to continue to encourage and reassure them that they are doing the right thing, that you understand that this can be challenging, but you are there for whatever they may need. Remind them how proud you are that they see the importance in working through the problem in a productive way and there is nothing they need to be embarrassed about. Your support is key.
Scott S. Garbini, M. Ed is the owner of Garbini Education and Career Consulting, LLC. providing college admission counseling, transition planning and post graduate options, as well as college to career and/or life transitioning and coaching. Mr. Garbini has over 15 years experience in higher education, spoken at multiple schools, seminars, and educational conferences around the country, and currently serves on the New London Public Schools Policy Committee, The ISAAC School Governance Committee and the Higher Education Consultants Association Government Relations Committee. He is also the former elected President of the New London Public Schools Board of Education having served two terms.
Visit www.garbinied.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule a consultation. You can also visit Garbini Education and Career Consulting LLC. on Facebook and Instagram at garbinieducation
Edited by Deborah Furgueson, M.A., NBCT