“Unfortunately, parents often don’t know something is going on until they get a call from their child’s roommate, or when they see their child’s grades at the end of the semester,” says Dr. Richard Catanzaro, chairman of psychiatry at Northern Westchester Hospital.
MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. (PRWEB) September 16, 2019
With the beginning of the fall college semester, many parents worry about their child’s ability to cope. Today’s college students face much higher rates of serious mental illness than in the past. In addition to higher rates of stress and anxiety, suicide has become the second leading cause of death on campus.
“Unfortunately, parents often don’t know something is going on until they get a call from their child’s roommate who read something on Facebook, or when they see their child’s grades at the end of the semester and find out their child failed or withdrew,” says Dr. Richard Catanzaro, chairman of psychiatry at Northern Westchester Hospital and director of its Behavioral Health College Partnership.
“When parents live far away, they are often in the dark as their child’s mental health declines, but there are red flags to look for and ways to help,” he adds.
Here are some things parents need to know…
College students are more vulnerable to serious mental illness due to the added stress of a new environment and new expectations, right when they’ve left their support system behind. College students have more freedom, but the lack of structure can be daunting. Socially and sexually, they’re still figuring out who they are, while the prevalence of substance abuse on college campuses, particularly marijuana and alcohol, can trigger mental illness in someone with a predisposition.
College students are suffering from depression, extreme anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia’s first episode commonly occurs in the late teens, coinciding with the early college years. It is believed that intense stress can be among the triggers of the disease in people genetically susceptible.
The rate of attempted and completed suicide on college campuses is rising – it’s the second leading cause of death among college students. Untreated depression is the major cause. Substance abuse facilitates suicide attempts by lowering inhibitions.
Be aware of signs that something may be wrong: Are there changes in your child’s behavior? If your child texts you nearly every day, and then you don’t hear from them for three days, there might be something going on. Does your child sound different – less open? Have they gained or lost a lot of weight? Stopped grooming themselves?
Keep lines of communication open: Your relationship with your child in college will echo the one you had with them in high school. Be open about your concerns and ask what you can do to make the transition from home to college easier. Even if the conversation is one-sided, let your child know you are there for them and available if they are having a problem.
Establish a regular communication schedule: To avoid communication black-outs, establish a schedule with your child before they leave home. Agree to text every three or four days, and let them know that you will worry if you don’t hear from them. Once they are at school don’t communicate with your child’s friends behind their back. That will erode trust, which is vital as you monitor how they’re doing.
If your gut tells you something is wrong, be transparent. Say, “You don’t sound like yourself. What’s going on?” If they insist they’re fine and tell you not to visit, assert yourself as the parent: “I’m sorry. I’m paying for this. I’m coming up.”
If you think there could be a real danger, call the campus health services and safety services, and visit immediately. Be proactive. What’s the worst that can happen? Your kid has a tantrum and slams the door in your face? After they get over their anger, they’ll understand that you are there for them. It’s a misconception that if you upset your child, they’ll cut you out of their life. Even if that happens, it usually doesn’t last long. The converse is worse – not giving them enough support.
While campus mental health services are becoming more robust, they often don’t offer enough. It’s very common for parents to seek off-campus treatment. Being proactive as a parent and as a school is best. Students who receive treatment at the start of a mental illness, are more likely to get better faster and return to school. When illnesses are caught early, and students receive proper support, they can get back on track. In those cases, you’ve not only fixed the acute problem, you’ve gotten them into treatment and given them a structure that will help them continue to do well in school, whether that’s individual therapy or medication, or both.
Photo: Dr. Richard Catanzaro, chairman of psychiatry at Northern Westchester Hospital and director of its Behavioral Health College Partnership
Photo Credit: Northern Westchester Hospital/Northwell Health
Dr. Catanzaro is director of Northern Westchester Hospital’s Behavioral Health College Partnership, which was developed by Dr. Laura Braider at Zucker Hillside Hospital, Northwell’s psychiatric facility. The Partnership has developed protocols to discreetly help college students suffering the onset of a serious psychiatric problems, such as psychosis or depression, designed to minimize disruption in the student’s life; discreetly get them out of a dorm; and provide a liaison with the schools, to protect their academic status.
About Northern Westchester Hospital
Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH), a member of Northwell Health, provides quality, patient-centered care that is close to home through a unique combination of medical expertise, leading-edge technology, and a commitment to humanity. Over 650 highly-skilled physicians, state-of-the-art technology and professional staff of caregivers are all in place to ensure that you and your family receive treatment in a caring, respectful and nurturing environment. NWH has established extensive internal quality measurements that surpass the standards defined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) National Hospital Quality Measures. Our high-quality standards help to ensure that the treatment you receive at NWH is among the best in the nation. For more information, please visit http://www.nwhc.net and connect with us on Facebook.
About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, about 750 outpatient facilities and more than 13,600 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 70,000 employees – 16,000-plus nurses and 4,000 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu and follow us @NorthwellHealth on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.