The transition from middle school to high school is one of the hardest times boys and girls go through in their formative years. Fourteen and fifteen year-olds developing a strong sense of self amidst their peers while their changing bodies grow at different (fast) rates can be… well… freaky-deaky to some of them! It’s also a period where the brain’s frontal lobes are being pruned and becoming better insulated from distractions, helping teenagers learn and perform the adult tasks of effective organization, critical thinking, and problem-solving — executive function skills needed to succeed academically in high school and college. Here we have young people — children, brothers, sisters, students — undergoing enormous amounts of physiologic and psychologic changes in a relatively short timeframe. Freaky-deaky indeed!
Again, not everyone goes through these seismic changes at the same time, at the same rate, or with the same success. In addition to what each of us brings to the table as far as our genetic predispositions and natural abilities are concerned, there are other factors — intact, loving and supportive families, economic security, good general health (or the lack of chronic medical problems), and stable mental health — that impact how well this transition ultimately goes.
The transition from high school to college is also a difficult one to navigate for young adults. With newfound freedom to learn and discover comes great responsibility (and serious consequences for messing up). Joan Raymond says this causes a great deal of anxiety on college campuses:
No one said the transition from high school to college was easy.
But over the past five years, a growing number of college students are struggling with anxiety, depression and social anxiety, according to the seventh annual report issued by Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
The report analyzed data from 100,736 college students who have sought mental health treatment on campuses across the U.S. According to the report, 20 percent of these students are using about half of available appointments.
While it’s clear that efforts to educate youth about mental health problems and the need to seek help are gaining traction, there are still too many young people who may be suffering in silence.
The first semester of college is a very difficult time for most college students. Often their first experience living away from home, college students find themselves fending for themselves. The academic coach and family social event planner whom each college student has grown accustomed to for 18 years (usually a mom) is now “retired.” Now it is their responsibility to get out of bed and get to class on time, to be organized enough to learn and study efficiently, to be safe and make good choices regarding food and sleep, drugs and alcohol, relationships and sex. They will make mistakes, for sure; hopefully their strong values and supports will keep the consequences from those mistakes insignificant. But it’s going to be tough for students, and it’s going to be tough for their parents, too. Raymond advises parents to take a breath as their kids begin their ascent into adulthood:
Young people are going to stress about exams, making new friends, and being on their own. But not every difficulty translates into a full-blown mental health issue since short-term feelings of anxiety or “the blues” are normative human experiences. “I always say if you never felt stressed or depressed then you’re one exceptional human being,” adds Locke.
Mom and dad are a still a go-to support system for their college students. In fact, more than 60 percent of college students say would turn to parents if they needed emotional support or help, according to a study by college student mental health and suicide prevention advocacy group The JED Foundation. However, more than 70 percent, say they will first go to a friend.
“Parents must recognize that part of becoming an adult is that their child is learning how to find their own support (system),” says Locke. “They are learning to figure things out on their own.”
In any event, parents shouldn’t step too far away. Continued concern and involvement in their student’s life is a given; that won’t ever change. Raymond wants parents to monitor for these signs of stress:
Warning signs of anxiety and depression do differ among individuals, but there are some behavior changes that you should be mindful of, including:
- Changes in sleep patterns (including sleeping too little or too much)
- Anger issues
- Problems with task completion and feeling overwhelmed with time pressures
- Appetite changes
- Even more frequent complaints of aches and pains, among others.
Finally, Raymond encourages parents to have conversations with their kids about the difficult college transition before they leave the nest. Anticipating the bumps ahead can go a long way in helping students realize when, where, and how to ask for help if they really need it.