By Happy Carlock
As you head to college this fall, you will face several exciting decisions. From choosing a meal plan to registering for classes, you will have a say in all things big and small that will shape your day-to-day life on campus.
But one subject that tends to get overlooked in the back-to-school planning process is mental health.
Starting a conversation about your mental health with your family members is a critical part of preparing for college. Seventy-five percent of mental health conditions develop by age 24. The college years, therefore, are the most natural time for people to develop a mental health condition. That’s why NAMI is prioritizing conversations about mental health between students and parents.
For far too long, our culture has failed to create an environment that embraces openness about mental health; our parents barely had any vocabulary for discussing mental health issues when they were young. But regardless of whether or not they’re talked about, conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are present on college campuses. And with the right treatment, services and supports, people living with mental health conditions on campus can thrive.
NAMI’s new report, “Starting the Conversation: College and Your Mental Health,” provides important information about college-related mental health, including privacy laws, various on-campus resources and what to do when a mental health condition arises. We believe that starting a dialogue is crucial to fostering an environment of acceptance and being prepared in case you or a loved one develops a condition.
Luckily, colleges across the country recognize the high risk of mental health issues that students face, and many have taken measures to develop effective counseling and peer support services. With this report, NAMI encourages students to know what resources are available to them and what rights they have if they choose to seek out those services on campus. The guide includes important information about HIPAA and FERPA privacy laws, as well as an authorization for release of health information form for students who choose to share information with their parents or a trusted adult.
By signing a health information release form, you do not have to grant your college permission to share everything with your parents. You can choose how much information is shared as well as who gets to know what; you also have the power to amend that information at any time.
College is a time of major transition that brings new pressures. Between making friends, balancing academic work with extracurricular activities, adjusting to a new schedule and sleeping habits, facing financial stress, and, in many cases, being far away from home, there will likely be days when you find yourself overwhelmed. If you become so distressed that it limits your ability to function normally, know that help is out there. Talk to your friends, parents or a trusted adult, and have a plan in place so you know what steps to take if you do end up developing a mental health condition.
During your college years, you will grow intellectually as your classes, professors and peers introduce you to new ideas and help shape your understanding of the world. As you glean wisdom about these new subjects, you will also learn a lot about yourself.
At NAMI, we believe that knowledge is power. Before you buy your books and tackle each class’s syllabus, educate yourself about how you and your family can be proactive about your mental health. It’s time to expand our vocabulary about mental health. Let this guide be your starting point.
Read: Starting the Conversation: College and Your Mental Health.
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