Allison Slater Tate
This story discusses #suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of #suicide please call the U.S. #NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
When news broke in March that #Stanford senior and #soccer star #KatieMeyer, 22, died by #suicide, it was a gut punch for #parents who understood what Katie’s mother Gina meant when she said she was living “a parent’s worst nightmare” in her interview with NBC News’ Stephanie Gosk on TODAY.
A month later, University of Wisconsin-Madison track and field star #SarahShulze died by #suicide.
“We suddenly and tragically lost our dear Sarah on Wednesday, April 13. She was surrounded by her loving family,” her #parents posted on April 15.
The statement continued, “Sarah took her own life. Balancing athletics, academics and the demands of every day life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment.”
Gina Meyer told Gosk she and Katie’s father had no red flags leading up to her death and that she had been in good spirits on FaceTime with them just hours before.
Katie’s and Sarah’s deaths leave questions about what #parents need to know about #mentalhealthsupport on campuses and how they can support their #children at #college, particularly now that #college #students seem to be struggling more than ever.
According to the most recent #HealthyMindsInstitute data report from winter of 2021, 41% of #college #student respondents reported moderate or major #depression, and 13% reported having had #suicidalideation in the previous year.
We asked experts in the #mentalhealth and higher education fields to weigh in with answers about what #parents can do.
1. Start working on self advocacy skills early
Think about the skills people need in #college before your #children get to #college, Myrna Hernández, Vice President of Student Affairs at the College of Wooster in Ohio, told TODAY Parents. “While they are still in #highschool, figure out whatever it is your #child is dealing with, whether it’s academic, #mentalhealth, or #anxiety,” she suggested.
“Then start building their self-advocacy skills,” she said. “Ask them, ‘What so you want to do about that, and how are you going to accomplish it?'” Hernández said those kinds of “training wheel exercises” while they are still in #highschool can be really important later when #students need to be able to speak up for themselves.
2. Ask about #mentalhealthresources
When touring #college campuses, #parents and #students should ask about #mentalhealthservices the same way they would ask about meal plans or internship opportunities, experts said — even if their #students have never needed #mentalhealthsupport in the past.
Know who to contact if there are issues. Know where the #student health center is. Know how to find #mentalhealth help, and make sure your college kids knows too. At Wooster, for example, Hernández said the #school has an “early alert system” in the form of their #college “Care Team” made up of #students, faculty, and staff members who can follow up if someone alerts them with concerns about a #student.
Wooster offers counseling services through their #student wellness center, but Hernández noted that those services might have a wait time. She said Wooster and most colleges and universities also have emergency #mentalhealthsupport available 24 hours a day, seven days a week — which is important for #students to know.
Other questions to ask colleges: How long do #students typically wait to see a #counselor? How many sessions are they given before they must seek help outside the university? What kind of support does the university provide if they do need to find a private #mentalhealthprovider?
3. Consider legal release forms
What many #parents do not realize is that once #kids are older than 18, privacy laws limit #colleges in what they can communicate to #parents about their #students’ #mentalhealth.
In some cases, #parents might want to submit signed documents from their #students giving the #college have more freedom to tell them if their #children suffer a medical issue on campus, either #mental or physical. These forms might include medical and/or financial power of attorney as well as HIPAA releases.
“If a #student welcomes this, it’s not a crazy thing to have, just in case,” said Dr. Sarah Cain Spannagel, a licensed clinical #psychologist and faculty member at Case Western Reserve University.
“My mom sent me to college with a Tupperware with things like a small sewing kit inside of it,” Spannagel noted. “Did I use any of those things? No. They sat in a storage block in the corner of my dorm room. But I had them if I needed them; and this is really no different, if it makes sense to everyone involved.”
#James Donaldson notes:
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
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4. Talk about #mentalhealth and have a plan
When a #child goes away to #college, the dynamic between them and their #parents will change, said Hernández — and communication is important.
Once a #student has been on campus for a few weeks, “Ask them, ‘Who, besides your friends, is supporting you?'” she said. “Make sure they can point to someone. Even just one connection, like a coach or a professor or someone in the academic resource center is enough, but they need to be connected to someone.”
For #students who have had #mentalhealthsupport in their hometown, a “forthright plan for continuity of care” is also critical, said Spannagel, and not just in terms of counseling or medication.
“Whatever your child’s self care is at home, that needs to go with them somehow to #college,” she said. “If they have a gym membership at home and working out helps them relieve #stress, make sure they know where they can do that on campus. If it’s getting their nails done every week, then they should do that.”
5. Work on noticing instead of judging
Spannagel advised #parents to keep in touch regularly with their #kids at #college and to insist, sometimes, on hearing their voice or FaceTiming so they can see how they look. However, she warned that #parents should be “noticers” when observing their kids, and not pass judgment on them.
If they are cranky from lack of sleep or if they aren’t eating enough — instead of criticizing them, be aware and notice if a #child seems to be eating, exercising, or sleeping more or less than usual, she said. Significant changes might be an early warning signal that something is off. One big tell that a #student could need help, Spannagel said: any mention of #hopelessness.
Spannagel also said that even though #college #students need their independence, it is OK for #parents to decide to take something off their child’s plate.
“If you need to pick up their medication from the pharmacy and mail it to them at #school, who cares?” she said. “There’s a million other opportunities at #college to be independent. If they need you to do that one thing to keep them on track, that’s OK.”
6. Tell your #children they are not alone if they struggle
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic gold medalist in swimming who struggled with #depression and now works as a #mentalhealth educator and advocate. She knows too well the perfectionism and pressure Katie Meyer’s #parents mentioned in their TODAY interview, both for high performing #athletes as well as the average person.
Going off to #college as an elite athlete, she would have benefitted from knowing “other people struggled too,” she told TODAY Parents. “I believed completely that I was the only one. Even after all my achievement, I felt like an imposter, and that for me was the driver into the depths of #depression, into that dark, dark, space, because I felt like I would be found out if I revealed any sort of struggle.”
Livingstone noted, “We don’t need a diagnosis to be able to talk about #anxiety. Sometimes #kids feel they need permission to feel how they feel.”
Hernández said the #mentalhealthcrisis among #college #students is “generational,” not just a byproduct of the #COVID-19 #pandemic.
“We have to remember that it’s being compounded now, because not only are #students having to deal with the disruption the #pandemic caused, but they’ve also grown up in #schools with #anxiety and #stress from active shooter drills and thinking about their personal safety every day just being in #school in general,” she said.
This story was originally published in March 2022 and has been updated.