College success when your student has a mental health issue
Going away to college is tough in and of itself. When you add on a mental health disorder it can seem downright impossible. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website states that over one-third (37%) of students who have a mental health condition age 14-21 end up dropping out of college. You may be asking yourself, “what can I do to prevent this??” That’s exactly what we are going to talk about here. This guide is a compilation of things you need to know as you or your child begins Eckerd this fall!
Common mental health issues in college
The number one mental health issue in college is depression with a rate of 21.2 percent of students endorsing major depressive disorder according to the World Health Organization. When students feel depressed, it can be difficult to recognize their symptoms, know what to do, or where to turn. The trouble is that depression can look different for different people. One depressed person may be unable to leave their dorm room or make it to class, and another may be drinking excessively and appear like the “life of the party” as a way to mask how they are really feeling. Common depression symptoms include: sadness, low energy, losing interest in things that the student once enjoyed, weight gain or weight loss, too much sleep or too little sleep, difficulty concentrating, anger, anxiety, and isolation. It is important to remember, a student does not need to have all of these symptoms to have depression! If you are worried about your child, or just not feeling like yourself reach out to a mental health provider!
Anxiety is a close second to depression, which affects 18.6 percent of students. The term anxiety is thrown around a lot these days. Everyone experiences a little worry from time to time, but it becomes an issue when it is negatively impacting your life. There is a difference between a tiny pit in your stomach as you talk to a guy you like, and feeling so debilitated or panicked that you are unable to get yourself out of the dorm to take a test, or be around peers. Common anxiety symptoms are: feeling worry, fear, or uneasiness, difficulty sleeping usually due to rapid thoughts, shortness of breath, not being able to sit still, heart palpitations, cold or sweaty hands and feet, or feeling excess energy in your body.
Full-blown eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This overlaps with the years that students are in college. NEDA estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of women, and 4 to 10 percent of men in college have an eating disorder, which is a scary statistic when we consider how eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental health disorders. There are many different types of eating disorders, but if you notice that you are restricting food, unable to eat different types of foods due to worry, eating more than a typical person would in one sitting, having a distorted view of your body, using excessive exercise or laxatives, losing or gaining a considerable amount of weight, or are purging, please seek help immediately. At Integrated Care Clinic (ICC), we are a treatment team with therapists and nutritionists on staff. Dr. Winton is a leading eating disorder expert in St. Pete and each staff member at ICC is extensively trained in eating disorders. If it turns out that you or a loved one needs a higher level of care, Fairwinds in Clearwater and Center for Discovery in Tampa are the two biggest intensive outpatient and inpatient facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
1569 S Fort Harrison Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33756
2111 W Swann Avenue, Ste 150
Tampa, FL 33606
Women aged 18 to 24 are also at a greater risk of sexual assault. In addition to students who have a history of trauma, fall and spring of freshman year are called the “Red Zone” due to the heightened risk of experiencing an assault. Many college women who are raped don’t know what to do or who to turn to, and getting connected to resources sometimes presents a challenge. The first step is often to get a “rape kit” or swab of DNA that may have been exchanged in the assault. You can access these by going to some emergency rooms where your normal insurance is billed, OR you can contact the rape crisis center, where you can access one for free. You can also choose to call the police and press charges at this time. On campus, administrators are mandated reporters to the title IX office where students are able to choose to make a report to police or not if you haven’t already done so. Campus restraining orders tend to go through this avenue, but victims are sometimes forced to face their perpetrators in a mediation. Another way to attain a no-contact order which circumvents this is to involve the campus chaplain and have her take you to the campus safety directly.
Therapy is an important part of recovery from a traumatic event. If you notice that you or a friend is having intrusive memories of an event, are more irritable, sad, numb, or anxious, are more sensitive to loud noises or are feeling “on edge” most of the time, are having difficulty concentrating, are having a hard time being around others or are wanting to be at home more than usual, are falling behind in school, are having trouble sleeping, or are noticing that you are just not yourself after an event (ANY event) please seek help! There is a counseling center on campus that many people reach out to first. The strengths of the campus counseling center are that they provide short term services, two groups, and referrals to outside providers. If you find that they are unable to help or that you need longer-term treatment, there are other options! At Integrated Care Clinic Dr. Rebecca Crecraft, PsyD and Dr. Beatriz Mann, PhD are both trauma experts who are certified in Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), which teaches the tools and skills to get you feeling better, and uses a trauma narrative to process the event in a way that allows you to make it a chapter in your story instead of the entire book. Our goal is to get you feeling better so that you are able to get back to the things that you once enjoyed, and to finish up that degree! There are also two support groups for sexual assault survivors that are often beneficial in combination with individual treatment.
8:30am-5:00pm during regular term
8:00am-4:00pm during summer
Services are free to students and are short term in nature
After hours students are instructed to call Campus Safety
(727) 864-8260 or call 911
33 6th St S, Suite 205, St Pete
Survivors of Sexual Assault Support Group
4010 Central Ave., St. Pete
(727) 327-7656 x4145
Sexual Assault/Abuse Survivors Group
2nd Wednesday of each month
The LIFE Center
6811 N. Central Avenue, Tampa FL
Accommodations, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), 504 Plans and Advocacy
Some students have had IEPs and 504 Plans for their whole lives. These, unfortunately, don’t transfer to college in the same way. However, this doesn’t mean that there are not college accommodations. The difference is that students have to advocate for themselves much more than they did in high school. If you or your child had the opportunity to be a part of the meetings throughout the years and play an active role in advocating for themselves, you/they are already ahead of the curve! For those who didn’t though this new self-advocacy can be a hard transition. At Integrated Care Clinic (ICC) we teach clients skills to navigate school challenges, can practice and role-play these skills to prep clients, and are able to advocate for clients through online or phone involvement during on-campus meetings.
Impact on mental health
It is no surprise that substance use is rampant on college campuses. Students leave home where they have structure and rules and are thrown into an environment where they can do whatever they want with few consequences. In an environment like that, drinking and drug use can become part of college culture and begin to feel like part of a “norm”. What we know about drinking and drug use though, is that it can have a negative impact on mental health. People who are depressed who drink report feeling worse. Those who have anxiety or trauma may begin to use substances to numb out. Students who are intoxicated are more likely to have other negative things happen in their lives. The trouble is that it can be hard to spot when alcohol or drugs have become an issue amongst a sea of casual users. The following questions can be helpful in determining if your use has gotten out of control:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
- Have you tried to cut back, but couldn’t?
- Do you ever lie about how much or how often you drink or use drugs?
- Are you going through prescription medication at a faster-than-expected rate?
- Have your friends or family members expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use?
- Do you ever feel bad, guilty, or ashamed about your drinking or drug use?
- On more than one occasion, have you done or said something while drunk or high that you later regretted?
- Have you ever blacked out from drinking or drug use?
- Has your alcohol or drug use caused problems in your relationships?
- Has your alcohol or drug use gotten you into trouble at work or with the law?
If you answered yes to a number of these questions, you could benefit from talking more about your alcohol or substance use. Often determining what is underneath the substance use can eliminate the need.
Don’t self medicate
Substance use is often used to cover up other problems in students’ lives. Whether students are having a difficult time transitioning to college, feeling depressed, have experienced trauma, are socially anxious, or are having peer problems, stressors such as these can create new problems that students don’t feel prepared to deal with on their own. Alcohol and drugs can seem like viable options to help through these situations, but the added use can end up bringing new problems of their own. For example, late-night drinking can make it difficult to get to class the next day, DUI arrests can bring financial costs and administrative consequences, and when students attempt to cover up other issues with substance use those initial problems are still there underneath, and do not have a chance to get resolved. At Integrated Care Clinic (ICC) we don’t chastise students for their substance use, but rather seek to learn what function it may be playing in their lives so that we can correct the root problem, and get students back to the things that matter most to them!
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Dogs, Turtles, and Turanchulas oh my!
Eckerd is one of the most pet-friendly campuses around which is great for mental health. Emotional support animals (ESAs) may be allowed in areas of campus that other animals are not. ESAs are animals that have been identified as a part of treatment for an individual in their therapy. For example, a client who has high anxiety may report feeling less anxious when he is able to have his dog next to him to assist him in calming down. A client who has PTSD may be able to venture out into social situations that she may otherwise not attend with her dog by her side to provide support. When the need for additional support, calming, and coping is identified in session, I evaluate what benefits an ESA could provide to a client and if there is a necessity. Having an ESA is a treatment prescription that includes the animal as a coping mechanism in the same way a medical doctor prescribing a medication would!
The campus culture at Eckerd is one of openness, inclusivity, and relaxation. Many students are drawn to this campus due to its small class sizes, epic parties, and promise to give students a tailor-made academic future. Many students thrive there and find the college experience that they dreamed of, while others have a harder time adjusting and can sometimes express frustration that their expectations weren’t met. The important thing is that when a student is having a hard time that they find the support that they need.
Connecting to peers and feeling involved in a community is the number one predictor of college students’ success. Connection is also an important protective factor for mental illness. No matter how we look at it it is important that you or your student find their tribe when they arrive at Eckerd. On campus, there are activities such as club sports, intramurals, recreation facilities, and over 100 organizations to join. There are also volunteer opportunities such as EC-ERT where students interested in formal emergency training can take part in keeping other students safe while becoming an involved member of a team. Living in the dorms is also a great way to meet people, as well as taking advantage of the freshman classes where everyone is in your position of being in a new place. Finding something that you are passionate about, where you can meet other like-minded people is of the utmost importance!
Proper nutrition, sleep, and movement are important parts of taking care of yourself. If you are not providing yourself basic needs, how can you expect to perform at your best and feel your best? Need more than these basic needs? At Integrated Care Clinic (ICC) you can learn ways to challenge negative thinking and behavior patterns that are keeping you stuck, learn tools to use when you are feeling anxious or down, work through past hurts that are impacting your current functioning, practice effective assertiveness, communication, and social signaling to improve your interpersonal relationships.
Who we are at Integrated Care Clinic (ICC)
At ICC we are fun, trendy, and knowledgeable. We are located 9 short minutes from campus and have extensive training surrounding the unique issues college students experience. We use evidence-based treatments to get you feeling better as fast as possible, and have both mental health therapy as well as personal growth services for those who are looking to gain insight and understanding. Here is a list of some of the Evidence-Based Treatments at Integrated Care Clinic (ICC):
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
- Family-Based Treatment (Maudsley/FBT)
- Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Radically Open- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO-DBT)
- Exposure Response Prevention (ERP)
- Interpersonal Therapy (IP)
- Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)
- Structural Family Therapy
- Family Systems Therapy
We have 8 experts on staff who are ready to help you achieve your best life this year. We can’t wait to meet you in the fall!