Mental Illness and Student Success in Post-Secondary
After all the difficulties that high school wrought on your teen, it’s time for the true test; the entry to so-called real life: post-secondary education. Be it college, university, or apprenticeship, time away from the haven of home can mean that a carefully balanced mental illness can quickly take a turn for the worse.
As parents, we all worry about children living away from home, but parents of young adults with mental illness have an extra component to their stress. How can parents achieve some peace of mind while assuring themselves that their grown child will thrive away from home and experience academic success?
• Consider not drinking. Drinking alcohol can cause personality changes and interfere with the absorption of medication. Steer clear of the culture that promotes drinking to excess.
• Make sure that health coverage is available. Health coverage gives your teen a feeling of security. Should something go amiss, they aren’t limited to the under-staffed resources available on campus.
• Find an accessible off-campus physician. While medical staff on-campus are trained to work with students, it may make everyone more comfortable if the student in question has a doctor of their own that they can depend on.
• Know your rights. Discrimination against mental illness is illegal. Be able to identify discrimination and learn ways to approach it with dignity.
• Get enough sleep. Sleep helps a person feel balanced, aids in good decision-making and increases mood.
• Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure you and your student check in over the phone regularly.
• Plan ahead. Especially in preparation for freshman year when everything is new.
• Touch base with the Disability Office on campus. While the office will need to know the nature of the disability in question, they commit to keeping all information confidential. The Disability office has counsellors, social workers and accommodations that can help your child succeed at school.
• Structure your time. Having a flexible yet solid routine will help adapt to the new reality of living away from home. Structuring time appropriately ensures that enough time is budgeted for self-care and the student is able to prioritize tasks to minimize stress.
While 20 per cent of students are diagnosed with mental illness, and the number appears to be rising, be assured that campus staff are aware of the diversity of need that this population requires.
As the Canadian Mental Health Association states in their excellent guide, “Mental illness does not equal lack of ability.” A post-secondary education will open doors to different career options and personal growth. Encourage your child to preserver, regardless of how challenging this season of life may be.