Monday, July 29, 2019

Helping College-Aged Students Deal with Depression

This is a sponsored post.

People sometimes ask me whether having lost one child, I am extra fearful about the safety of my other children. In general, I’d say no. Jack’s sudden death and the confluence of bizarre circumstances that led to it, convinced me that no amount of worrying can completely protect our kids from harm. Sure it’s scary, but there’s a certain freedom in that. 

My experiences with grief and trauma have, however, connected me to many families who have experienced teen depression and suicide, and with Margaret heading to college in the fall, this topic looms large! With suicide now the second-leading cause of death for college students, I know it must also be on the mind of many, many of you with high school and college-aged kids. I want to be informed for my family’s sake, and I want to share information with you.

I recently teamed up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness about depression among teens, and learn more about how I as a parent can identify risk factors and access resources. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals. Look for several posts from me on this topic as I learn more! 

Maybe your family is good at communicating, but mine isn’t. Sure, I may overshare on the internet, but at home it’s a different story. 

It reminds me of when Margaret was 6 years old. Two girls in her class were fighting over her. There was drama. Both of the other moms knew all about it because their daughters talked about it daily, yet I didn’t hear a peep from mine, who was smack-dab in the center of  it all. It was an early example of how much my family struggles when it comes to talking about uncomfortable issues and emotions. Heap grief and trauma on top of that and we struggle even more. 

Not that emotional well-being should be a hard issue to discuss, but it is still stigmatized, most particularly for boys and students of color. It is so much easier to talk about physical illness than mental illness; colleges want to change this. 

In fact, the doctors at Med-IQ stressed the importance of looking at mental health in the same way we look at the physical health of our teens. One of the psychiatrists from the University of Michigan, who has decades of experience helping college kids with depression put it this way: “Every student should have a check-up from the neck up!”

Don’t you love that? But how does one even start the conversation about depression and mental health in order to get this “check-up”? A College Guidefrom the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave me pointers. I am printing it out for Tim and Margaret to read so we can all have the same info. 

There is also a great online screeningtool that students can access at any time to see if they might need mental health services. It even connects directly to resources at specific colleges, including my daughter’s. I took the screening myself to see what it was like, and I think asking your child to take this quiz every 6 months or so might be a good way to open up conversation and “check in.”

Transitioning to college is going to be an adjustment in every way. New friends. Freedom. Academic stress. Readily available alcohol and drugs. I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about it. I found the following list to be a good starting point of what to look for now and revisit later when school starts:

Signs that your son/daughter might be depressed:

Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
Severe out-of-control risk-taking behaviors
Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight.
Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol
Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits
Extreme difficulty concentrating/staying still
Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so.
I also found this fact-sheet of statistics and risk-factors about college suicideto be very helpful. 
Some of the info really got me down, but everything I read says it’s better to be more informed, than less. If this is starting to sound discouraging, I’ll say I’ve also learned that certain positive or protective factors common on campuses that can mitigate the risk of suicide such as connectedness to the school community, physical activity and exercise, social support such as RA’s, faculty, and friends, plans for the future, and access to services. 
Collegeswant to support students. Parents want the same thing. When we have more knowledge, we are more equipped to help.
I hope you’ll follow along to learn more.

Important:Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-age child which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Please take the SURVEY HERE.

Once you’ve completed the survey you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 Visa cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. My son attended the same Middle School as your daughter. I was shocked when I received a call from the counselor telling me that my son had failed a depression screening big time! I had no idea! It turns out that he has depression and severe anxiety. Luckily he is now receiving treatment but I shudder to think what could have happened if he hadn’t had that screening.

kimmyQL said...

Thank you so much for posting this. My son attended the same Middle School as your daughter. I was shocked when I received a call from the school counselor saying that my son had failed a depression screening big time. I had no idea how he felt. He is now going into his junior year of High School and we have learned that he suffers from depression and severe anxiety. He being treated but I shudder to think what could have happened if he never had the screening

Anonymous said...

So I haven't been to your site for a while but since you compiled the best list I've ever run across of "how to help a grieving family," I came back to find it and review it and send it to some friends. The reason: the college aged son of a dear friend just committed suicide. So yes, it was startling to see the post at the top.

What is there to say?... There is nothing to say except that this is a catastrophe. Nothing will ever be the same. I have some broader, social, philosophical questions and thoughts about this but none of that matters really in the face of a real, flesh-and-blood suicide, does it? Silence and presence are the only appropriate responses.