Going to College: How to Prepare
Here are some important tips to make the transition to college a little easier.
Drugs and Alcohol on Campus
"Because of the way their brains are wired, college
students are more susceptible to overuse of drugs or alcohol, which can lead to
extremely serious problems," says David Fassler, MD, a child and adolescent
psychiatrist. He says college students can consume greater quantities of drugs
and alcohol than adults and often appear to be able to better function than
adults, even when very impaired.
Parents might be relieved to know, however, that most students
don't abuse drugs or alcohol, says Fabiano. A history of drug or alcohol
problems within the family will increase the likelihood that your kid will
develop problems. That's why Fabiano says you should never glorify your old
drinking days if you had them.
If they do screw up, don't panic. Fabiano says that tripping
early in the college career is often a part of exploration and a newfound sense
of independence. That doesn't mean that you should turn a blind eye, however,
if you suspect your kid is in the midst of a drug or alcohol problem.
Educating your kid before they leave may be your best defense
against drug or alcohol abuse. Letting them know about the risks of partying
too hard -- alcohol poisoning or drunk driving, for example -- will better
prepare them. Rothstein says frequently colleges and universities send
educational information concerning drugs and alcohol home before the school
year starts. Some students are even asked to complete a program online and a
knowledge quiz. The Minnesota Institute of Public Health, for example, designed
an information brochure for schools to use, which you can download or read
When Depression Rears Its Ugly Head
"In recent years, we've seen a significant increase in
mental health issues and problems among college students," says Fassler.
The most recent data from the ACHA show an increase in depression among college
students over the last three years. In 2003, almost 16% of females and 8.5% of
males reported ever getting diagnosed with depression.
One reason, Fassler says, is that unlike previous generations,
more students with existing chronic conditions are getting treatment during
high school and are mentally able to go on to college. If your kid is currently
undergoing mental health treatment, make sure they continue their care and/or
For students who develop depressive symptoms after they start
college, stress and isolation are often to blame. "College is often the
first time they've been away from home and their established support
system," says Fassler, who works with the Walden Behavioral Care LLC in
Waltham, Mass., a clinic that specializes in treating college students.
As a result, not all symptoms spell a major depressive
disorder. Often, students experience homesick feelings or face social
challenges -- not liking their roommate, for example -- that make the initial
months of college especially challenging. It's normal for students to change
and grow -- and have some difficulties -- during their first year of college,
but you should keep an eye and ear out for what Kenzig describes as a
significant change in attitude. Your kids may require help if they are
experiencing extreme mood swings, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a loss
of interest in things they once loved, loss of appetite, or significant changes
in sleep patterns.