Youth Culture Window

College Schedule: Anxiety 101, Depression 201, and Panic Attack Lab

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Mental Health Needs Have Increased on College Campuses

It’s a new year, and for millions of high school seniors, it’s time to finalize college preparations. That usually means anxiety over deadlines, anxiety over SAT scores, and anxiety over interviews.

Based on new research, coping with the anxiety itself may be the best preparation for college….

During the fall semester of 2018, researchers found an increase in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks in college students. In a related survey of almost 14,000 college freshmen from eight countries around the world (including the U.S.), mental health was found to be a major concern for a growing number of college students. The study, conducted by the American Psychological Association, found that 35% of first-year students struggled with a mental illness of some kind! (21% of that group struggled with a “major depressive disorder,” while an additional 19% wrestled against a “general anxiety disorder.”)

As you might have guessed, all that anxiety isn’t just stressing college students; it’s also stressing the college itself. Due to the rising number of students seeking mental health care, colleges are straining to keep up with students’ needs. Over the last decade, the number of students asking for mental health treatment increased from 19% to 34%. Though most university communities have multiple agencies that provide mental health treatments, “on-campus” help was the most sought after.

The uptick in mental health needs on college campuses means some students get help…and some don’t. “The number of students who need treatment for these disorders far exceeds the resources of most counseling centers, resulting in a substantial unmet need for mental health treatment among college students,” says Dr. Randy P. Auerbach, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University.

Speaking of getting our kids help, what can we do to better prepare our kids to successfully face college?

Life Prep…Not Just College Prep

For almost 10 years, my wife and I served as the leaders of an on-campus ministry at one of the largest colleges in the U.S. We discovered that for every kid that was freaking out about their Organic Chemistry final, there were 15 kids stressing over their roommate’s selfish behavior, upsets with a significant other, financial shortfalls, or something else related to growing up away from family. In other words, the most frequent source of anxiety wasn’t school; it was life in general. Here are a few lessons you can teach your teens to prepare them for college whether they’re high school seniors…or 5th graders.

  1. Teach grit. From time to time, everybody makes mistakes. This includes celebrities, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, world leaders…and yes, teenagers. That means we need to teach them what to do when they get knocked down. While the answer is simple – get back up!– how we go about helping them learn this lesson can be a challenge. Maybe it means letting them make their own (limited) mistakes. Maybe it means letting them solve their own problems. Maybe it means saying no so they can learn balance or financial responsibility or some other crucial life lesson. Life can be a grind at times. Our kids need “grit,” the ability to persevere in the face of challenges.
  1. Teach life skills, not just school skills. As I’ve already stated, academic work is only one of the pressures our kids will face as they move on to college. They will need a ton of additional skills that have nothing to do with writing thesis papers if they are to be successful in college (and life afterwards). For example, do your kids know how to wash their own clothes? Cook? Manage their finances and pay bills in a timely manner? Discipline themselves with free time? Balance study and sleep? All of these skills – and many more – are crucial for a happy and healthy life in the long run. Speaking of the long run….
  1. Teach perspective. From the vantage point of many teenagers, getting into a certain college can seem like a make-or-break moment that will impact the rest of their lives. But can I ask a simple question? In 40 years, is it “really” gonna matter that your kid went to law school at The University of Alabama instead of Yale? Exactly. Teaching perspective means helping our kids prepare for the long haul of life. It’s not the end of the world if they don’t get accepted to the college of their dreams, or it takes 5 years to complete their degree, or some other hiccup occurs. And by the way, part of teaching perspective is modeling it…something many families struggle to do before college pressures even begin.

Teaching these lessons will impact their entire lives, not just their academic lives. The beginning of a new year is a great time to get started. Get your kid ready for college, and beyond!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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