“Preparing for College emotionally, not Just academically”

Juliann Garey is a journalist, novelist and clinical assistant professor at NYU. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Marie Claire; her novel, Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See, was an American Library Association award-winner and NPR Best Book of the Year in 2013.

Tuition isn’t the only thing that’s relentlessly on the rise on American college campuses. Multiple studies show a significant increase in college mental health problems in the last few years, and campus counseling services report being overwhelmed with students seeking help.

Why so much emotional distress, especially during the first year away from home? Everything from academic pressure to over-protective parenting to excessive engagement in social media has been blamed for the spike in anxiety and depression.

What’s clear is that adolescents making the transition from high school to college need not only academic skills to ace the classwork, and time-management skills to stay afloat, but emotional problem-solving skills to handle the challenges. As parents, we can’t shadow them in the freshman dorm, but we can help supply them, before they leave home, with a toolbox of skills and habits to use when they become stressed or overwhelmed.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of kids are getting through middle school and high school doing okay, but they go off to college and it’s too much,” says Dr. Lindsey Giller, a clinical psychologist in the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. Some kids are just overwhelmed by organization and time management issues, increased academic pressure and managing their lives independently — the emotional roller-coaster of a new social universe.

And if they’re away from home, they don’t have the support network they’ve been used to. This is especially true of kids who find themselves on a large campus where it’s difficult to get to know their professors and harder to find their social niche.

“Often the result,” says Dr. Lindsay Macchia, an associate psychologist in the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, “is what’s called emotional dysregulation — their mood is all over the charts. What we want to figure out is what skills are going to help them re-regulate and take better control over their mood, so it doesn’t get in the way of their friendships, their academics, or typical day-to-day life.”