Parent Series – Part 1: Zooming Out and Falling Forward
In a recent study conducted by The Healthy Minds Network and the American College Health Association, 60% of students shared that the pandemic has made it more difficult to access mental health care. This, in combination with the historical challenges that university counseling centers face with ever-increasing student utilization rates, insufficient staffing now made more difficult amid hiring freezes, and the long-standing issues of systemic racism impacting access to quality care being brought to the fore, leave many anticipating the mental health needs of our college students this fall. In this three-part series, college mental health counselor and specialist, Rob Danzman, shares his insights and tips on what parents need to know to best support their adult child next semester.
We are just weeks away from the beginning of the most challenging semester in history. That’s not hyperbole. Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya started the first university in 895 CE in what is now Morocco. Since then, there have been floods, world wars, and other pandemics. But this Fall is unique in the number of stressors and the worldwide impact. For example, dozens of colleges and universities closed this year. Schools that had been open and thriving for over one hundred years shuttered. I don’t mean they closed and moved classes online. I mean, they straight-up shut their doors for good. Many are consolidating. The Hechinger Report identified hundreds more as being significantly at risk. Most of that had nothing to do with COVID. For the last few decades (yes, decades), schools have been borrowing against the future, assuming they will always have more students and increase tuition and fees. Oops.
Next, the economy tanked. This was also the pre-COVID world through the spread of the virus made it way worse. Early indications came in February this year (2020) when there was a stock market crash that went widely underreported by the media. By April 14th, the International Monetary Fund reported that ALL of the G7 nations had entered a deep recession. The ripple effect? Those graduating in May had their first job canceled, delayed, or reduced. Internships dried-up. Universities initiated hiring freezes, and research funding was put on hold. Then the college-town bars and restaurants closed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost within just a few weeks.
Finally, COVID has been riding through our world like a roller coaster with no ending in sight. Students came back from Spring Break and finished classes online and did a reasonably good job of social distancing and just staying at home. But then some politicians and folks in positions of power started saying, “We’re all good now! Come on out and play!” And now, with just weeks until the Fall semester starts, infection rates are going up, in part due to off-campus student gatherings at bars and the like. The NCAA just canceled all Division II and III championships for the Fall.
So what does this all mean for our college students? How does this affect college students who were already struggling? What does this mean for parents? In this three-part blog series, I will lay out a plan for you. First, we’ll have our fireside chat about how to find help. Next, we’ll do the responsible thing and talk about Plan B if schools go 100% online. I’ll talk a bit about how to “encourage” the establishment of routine and scheduling appointments and visits (if on campus). I’ll also talk about how most effectively to communicate with your child’s school. While institutions may readily accept your checks. Privacy regulations make it much more challenging for them to share updates about your children’s academic and/or health status.
I also talk a bit about using a “team-based approach” since oversight and accountability for our college students is best shared among other adults. Finally, we’ll end with closing the books on the semester and preparing for the winter and spring semesters. Crazy that we need to think so far ahead, but this type of discussion saves lots of money, time, and tears.
If your son or daughter is suffering, you don’t need to know what’s wrong or how to fix it before finding help. A good therapist will give some analysis as to what clinically is wrong and what interventions might be most effective.
But how do you find that good therapist?…
Start with contacting the counseling center at your son’s or daughter’s school and ask for a referral in the community. Some schools may have a list of local providers they’d be willing to share. If not, many of the clinicians at university counseling centers (commonly referred to as Counseling and Psychological Services or CAPS) often personally know a few local clinicians, and that can be a huge help. Another resource is an online database like, uh hum, The Shrink Space, which specializes in connecting college students with counseling and psychiatric services.
Once you get a list of therapists who have availability, will work remotely and fit with your payment or insurance situation, go to their websites and email them. While not a major red flag, a therapist that doesn’t communicate via email could be a sign of being a bit old-fashioned in their approach. Anyway, back to the “how-to” plan.
Schedule a time to talk with them and, ideally, have your son or daughter on the call. Some therapists may not talk with a parent without the student present. Also, keep in mind that a good therapist will provide a free consult and answer any questions before you complete an intake form.
Once your college kiddo has given a thumbs-up for someone, nail down an intake meeting and make sure it’s on the calendar. To help facilitate a team-based approach and with the consent of your child, sign releases of information so the therapist can legally talk with you about how their sessions are going and provide updates.
We all hope that the Fall will be full of good times and sunshine, but some clouds are forming on the horizon.
Many universities are quietly developing Plan B’s with all of their faculty if COVID cases blow up, and people start getting sick. With that knowledge, I’m encouraging all students and their parents to develop their own Plan B’s.
Plan B can include whether the student stays on campus if classes go 100% online or move back home. Another thing to consider is what if a student tests positive for COVID? How will they complete the semester? Talking through some ‘worst-case scenarios’ may seem like overkill but could prevent a bigger mess if universities start closing up before Thanksgiving.
Wait, what was Plan A? Plan A is the ideal version of how the semester will go.
To start with, I focus on confirming students are 100% enrolled in the classes they wanted. Sometimes, students have holds on their account either because they have an outstanding balance on their account or if they were waitlisted and assumed they’d just get in.
Once the classes are nailed down for sure, and all the syllabi are posted on Canvas or Blackboard, I have all my clients pull ALL of the dates for assignments, papers, and tests and plug them into either iCal or Google Calendar. Next, we add in specific study sessions for each test. I even have them break down more extensive papers that need to be written over several weeks into more manageable chunks. Another thing we do is set up and schedule tutoring if the student knows they need the support.
Everything that can be identified, discovered, and planned is stuck on the calendar before classes start.
Finally, I have them put all of our sessions, dentist appointments, and things like flu shots. Whichever calendar platform a student chooses, I have them share it with their parents to quickly (and without texting every hour) know what’s going on day-to-day. It’s amazing what happens to college students when they have all of their responsibilities organized. Anxiety goes down, and efficiency and follow-through go up.
Stay tuned for the remainder of the series. In the meantime, learn more about Rob or to schedule an initial appointment with him, visit his TSS profile.
Students interested in gaining more tips to starting their semester can check out this post.