Get Help at First Sign of Distress

Written by Lisa Bleich

“I want to come home, I don’t think I can finish the year, “ My daughter pleaded.

“What?” I asked in disbelief. “You have less than a week left of classes and then finals, why do you all of a sudden want to come home?

“It’s too much. I have too many papers and finals all on the same day. I can’t do it. Please let me come home.”

“Have you asked for an extension? I remember when I got sick my freshman year, the professors were really accommodating.”

“I can’t do that! Please I just want to come home.”

“Well, can you at least ask first?”

“Ok, I’ll ask, but I’m sure they’ll say no”

I hung up the phone with a heavy heart, but hopeful she would turn it around. It made me realize that even if your child successfully maneuvers the first year, what happens when he or she reaches that moment when she feels as if she can’t do it any more? This can often happen at the end of the year right before finals because the combination of writing papers, studying for test, end-of-year spring festivals, parties, and performances all come together, leaving some students overwhelmed.

With the recent suicide at William and Mary, and numerous others at other colleges, parents of students with mental health issues have an extra layer of worry. And even students without a history of mental health issues prior to leaving for college could be at risk given the stress of college and being away from home without a built in support system. Below are some tips for current college students on how to manage. 

  1. Seek Help At the First Sign of Stress. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek out help. After my daughter’s cry for help, she asked her professor for an extension and he happily gave it to her. Knowing she had an extra week to finish her paper at home after school took the pressure off her and allowed her to finish the rest of her work.   (Ironically, now as a senior, one of her professors noticed that she seemed stressed out; he voluntarily told her to turn her paper in for him a couple days later when he found out all her papers were due on the same day!)
  2. Find a Therapist Off Campus for Long-Term Help. College based therapists are a great starting point, but most colleges don’t have the resources to manage long-term mental health issues. If you have a therapist at home, see if he or she can recommend someone near your school or alternatively some therapists can continue to Skype with their patients long-distance.
  3. Stay on Your Meds! You may feel a sense of freedom when you start school and it’s tempting to go of your meds, particularly if you think you’ve out grown them or are feeling better. Unfortunately going of your meds will only make you feel worse and it is also risky to mix medications with drugs and alcohol.
  4. Balance Your Workload. Students often make the mistake of piling on hard classes and activities and not recognizing their limitations. Because, in high school that was the norm. But in college, think about balancing your harder classes with easier classes to take the pressure off. One of our pre-med students knew that taking all science classes would be too difficult, so she minored in dance to reduce her stress.
  5. Recognize That You are Not Alone. Even though it may feel like it. People truly do want to help you and you are not the only one feeling overwhelmed or alone. Colleges have numerous resources to help and it’s important to take advantage of these resources. So if you need help with a paper go to the writing center. If you don’t understand a problem, form a study group. If you are having trouble with friends, talk to your RA. If you feel stressed out or depressed, go to the counseling center immediately.

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at times during college and life in general. Developing tools to manage stress are perhaps among the most important skills

Seniors, as you make your final decisions for where to go to school, think about the environment where you will feel most comfortable, which may or may not be the school that was the most select.

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