A Mental Health Checklist for Your College Freshman

By Melissa Fenton; Edited by Abby Cloud

Before your child leaves for their freshman year of college, you will find most of your time is spent making lists. There are lists of all the questions you want to ask at parent orientation. There are lists of financial aid forms to complete, and lists of student organizations they may want to check out when they get there. And don’t even get me started on the lists of all the STUFF you have to buy that they’re gonna need to have for their dorm room. That’s not even a list really,  it’s actually a fully filled out journal of necessary (and some very unnecessary) home furnishing items. Who knew there were 150 types of mattress pads? 

But there’s one college readiness list that you need to write and it may be the most vital list you ever write. I’m talking about a “mental health checklist,” and if you’ve never thought about making this kind of college preparedness list (or didn’t even know this existed or needed to be done), don’t fret, because I’ve put one together for you. 

Most college parents do a fine job of preparing their new freshmen to go away, but unfortunately they often overlook something mental health professionals call “A check up from the neck up,” (and preparing in advance the type of mental health checklist I’ve written for you).  

Where is the campus mental health/counseling center located? You and your student need to find out exactly where this building is located on campus, and when they’re open for walk-in patients. And I mean exactly where and when, because should they need to get there in the middle of a crisis, they may not be able to read a campus map, find a phone number, or research operating hours. In addition, FSU has a phone in counseling hotline option, where a student needing immediate help can reach a therapist by phone, so get that phone number (and hours of operation, building name too!) and program all of that into their phone. Again, in a crisis nobody wants to be looking for phone numbers. 

What services does the FSU mental health/counseling center offer? Now that you know where it is, what are they able to do to help your student when they need services? This will can and will vary by campus, so visit their website during the summer and go over with your student what they can help with, and if they will need an appointment to be seen or have walk-in hours.  Also, find out if they have any type of support groups or group therapy options available, and what is required to join. (Will they need to be seen first?) For example, these are the group therapy options offered by Florida State University’s Mental Health Center.

Where do I get medications filled? Do not even think about sending your kid away without having a pharmacy in their college town already picked out. Again, kids in a mental health crisis, or really when any type of illness happens mental or physical, trying to figure out where they can get meds filled last minute is a major inconvenience. There is a CVS pharmacy located steps off campus, so put their phone number in their phone (or find another of your choosing) so if they’re at an urgent care center, they can quickly tell the doctor where to send scripts. 

(**If your student is currently taking a medicine that has been classified as a controlled substance- like ADHD meds, then they may only be able to receive a 30 day supply at one time. They may also be required to have a doctor’s office visit every 30 days to refill their scripts, so if that is the case, you may need to acquire a physician for your student that is located near campus. Keep in mind if they don’t have a car, the issue of getting to off campus doctor’s appointments will need to be addressed.) 

Finally, there are a few other things that you and your future freshman should talk about before they leave. Try to encourage them to be able to recognize the difference between a bad day and a bad mood, versus a serious mental health concern. College mental health centers are referring to this as resilience building or distress tolerance, and are creating programs to help students differentiate between small and insignificant problems and large and very serious emotional concerns. By this I mean, situations like a fight with a roommate, a failed pop quiz, or a breakup with a boyfriend can all certainly contribute to a dark mood, but do they need to be addressed by a therapist? Or would a long phone call to mom or dad help that student process the situation more clearly and calmly? Make sure to also discuss the variety of physical symptoms that can appear that are directly related to emotional stressors, and vice versa. Is your student feeling suddenly physically ill? Headaches or upset stomachs?  Do they have loss of appetite? Has their sleeping been interrupted and insufficient? (More than what normal college kids endure.) Have they been going through a tough emotional time and now it is causing physical illness? They need to be able to notice that, and that is when it’s time to visit the counseling center.

Having a plan set in place before crises happen (and they will, trust me) is the smartest thing you can do as a parent and student, so do it before they leave. It will help reduce everyone’s stress in the end.

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