Something Just Seems Off with My College Student, What do I do?

Your college student is home for Winter Break. You notice they are sleeping way more than usual. They are not reconnecting with high school friends like you would expect. Their college grades are poor. They don’t seem to have that glimmer in their eye you know so well. They seem like a dull version of themselves. Something feels off.

Trust your gut: You know your child better than anyone else. If you feel something is not right, take this intuition seriously and talk to them about what you are noticing. Talking about mental health can be scary and awkward at first. To lay a strong foundation for this tender conversation they need to hear and believe these key statements from you: I will believe you. I will not judge you. I support your independence. You and I can work together to find some good resources.

Here are some signs something is amiss with mental health:

  • Withdrawing from friends or family
  • Downturn in mood or behavior
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Changes in self-care, like not showering or dressing for the day
  • A sudden change in grades or class attendance
  • Changes in their typical communication pattern, like calling or texting you much more often, or very rarely
  • Frequently expressing feelings of hopelessness, frustration, or sadness
  • Odd speech patterns, including talking faster, slower, or incoherently
  • Having trouble concentrating or remembering things

What to say if your student tells you they are struggling emotionally?

“Thank you so much for telling me about this. I know it’s not easy to talk about. Let’s work together to think through solutions and ways to support you.” It’s important that your student feel like they are involved in choosing the best kind of help for them. It’s tempting as a parent to rush in and try to fix everything for them. Remember this is a collaborative process. The best predictor of a positive therapeutic outcome is good rapport between the counselor and client.

Some good questions to ask your student:

  • How often do you feel [insert difficult emotions shared]?
  • When did you start feeling this way?
  • Have you told your friends you’re struggling?
  • How do you cope, or feel better, when you are feeling this way?
  • Have you tried to get a therapist appointment at the campus counseling center?
  • How can I help you?
  • What would make you feel better today?

What to do if the campus counseling center does not have availability soon?

If your student is suicidal, the counseling center should know, and they will make time.  But, if your student is not in immediate crisis, ask for a list of recommended therapists in the community; they will have a list.  A final idea is to check the parents’ Facebook group for suggested therapists specializing in college aged students.

Final thoughts

Definitely check in with your college student– just don’t overwhelm them with too much hovering. Of course you are worried, and your parenting instinct is to call or text them constantly. Every parent-child communication dynamic is different, just try to strike a balance between space and safety.