The following is a guest post by Nadia Jones. Nadia’s daughter experienced her first episode of mental illness while she was living away from home at University, leaving Nadia to have to try and manage this from afar. She has written below about her own advice to any other parents who worry about their child’s mental health when they are away from home. She writes:
“For many parents, worrying about their children, especially when they move away from home for the first time, it is natural. Of course, there are many specific things that parents worry about concerning their college-bound students, but perhaps the most worrisome for those who have a family history of mental health disorders is that big changes—moving away to experience a lack of structure for the first time–could cause stresses that later manifest into full-blown disorders. This was my experience with one of my children, who was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had shown no signs of the disorder prior to college. Here are a few of my tips for maintaining your child’s mental health when he or she no longer lives with you.
1. Be communicative without being overbearing.
When I first began attending college, my parents called me every day, but we never had substantive conversations. It was more of an exercise in “checking up” on me and a way to assuage their empty nest syndrome. Of course, you will want to call all the time, but it is much more effective to call your child every few days and have longer, more substantive conversations in which you can extract how they are really managing the transition. Since your child is experiencing independence for the first time, she will likely be less receptive to your communication if you call too often.
2. Get to know your child’s friends.
Of course, this won’t happen right away, but it is important to know and have contact information of those who actually live and study with your child. It is very easy for your own child to say “I’m fine, don’t worry.” Close friends who have your child’s interests in mind will be more open to talking honestly if a serious problem begins to arise. Whenever I came to visit my child in college, I would always invite her closest friends to dinner. Being close with your child’s support group is absolutely essential if your child later struggles with mental health issues.
3. Watch for small signs of anomalous behavior.
Most of the time, it is very easy for a burgeoning mental health problem to slip completely under the radar until it becomes an obvious problem. In my experience, especially if you already know about mental health disorders from relatives who may have them, it’s most important to look for very small changes in behavior. Even seemingly positive behaviors can be a sign. For example, when my child began calling me bubbling over with enthusiasm about a thesis project, I was excited for her. When the calls became more frequent and the enthusiasm turned into obsession, I knew that there was a problem.
4. Emphasize the importance of consistent sleep and overall balance.
Eventually, my child’s friends and I were able to convince my child to seek professional help. And one thing that parents should know from the very beginning is that professional help is an absolute necessity if mental health problems come up. I have known far too many young men and women whose lives were ruined by mental health disorders because they or their parents were in denial and delayed seeking help. But after seeing an appropriate doctor, the most important aspect of maintaining mental health is sleep and leading a balanced life. Make sure to emphasize this when talking to your child.
It goes without saying that there is much less that you, as a parent can do when your child moves away from home, and it can be extremely stressful. Being as loving and supportive in any way you can be, while trusting your child to grow into independence, is the most effective way to ensure a stable transition from home to adulthood.”
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.
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