Leaving for college anxiety | Dear YFS

A monthly advice column about issues faced by Islanders.

  • Thursday, August 15, 2019 8:09am
  • Life

By Cynthia Goodwin

Special to the Reporter

Our daughter is leaving for college. She is feeling anxious and a little sad about leaving her friends. Part of me thinks this is natural, but all the news about kids having mental health struggles in college is concerning. Any suggestions for a worried parent?


Dear WP,

First, yes, it is natural for your daughter to experience anxiety and sadness around significant life transitions. Teens rely so much on their peers to be mirrors to reflect their emerging identity and independence — the prospect of losing that can be profound.

Your impression of the mental health risk for college students is also accurate. At YFS (Mercer Island Youth and Family Services), we continue to see more 18-24-year-olds with mental health challenges and requests for pre-college counseling. National trend data suggests there has been a real, measurable increase in adolescent mental health issues over time. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health found rates of major depressive disorder among adolescents increased from 8 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2016.

That said, it is worth pointing out is that while there is legitimate concern, still, most college students will not have a mental health crisis.

My comments so far are likely doing little to reduce your concerns, WP, but my intent is to arm you with information that will help you talk with your daughter about a wellness plan for entering college. Collaborative problem solving like this can make a difference and help reduce anxiety for you both.

This plan first should require that you continue parenting through college. This means reinforcing family values about health, sleep, avoiding substances and safety on phone calls, texts, social media and during visits home.

Next, work with your daughter to identify her college’s counseling department, health clinic and other resources where she can turn for help. Empowering her to seek these resources before classes start will make it easier for her to utilize them if needed. Agree that she keep the information in an easily accessible place, like her phone or dorm room.

Talk with your daughter about the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression and substance abuse and agree that she will seek immediate help if something comes up. Be open to learning about her own strategies for a successful transition.

Finally, several studies point to the importance of the first semester of freshman year in setting habits for the rest of college. Consider signing an agreement with her that she abstain from drugs/alcohol, get decent sleep and follow some basic health strategies during this critical period.

WP, some thoughtful discussion, smart parenting and a concrete intervention plan can make a real difference in providing a mental health safety net away from home.

Cynthia Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services.

More in Life

Friendship Circles to host their 8th annual Walk, Run, and Community Day

The event will take place on Sept. 22 at Luther Burbank Park.

Libraries are welcoming spaces for everyone | Book Nook

A monthly column from the King County Library System.

Photo by Nityia Photography
                                Dora Gyarmati.
Redefine goals based on virtues to find joy | Health column

A monthly column about mindfulness and wellbeing.

Photo courtesy of Greg Asimakoupoulos
                                Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos uses blackberry picking as lessons for life.
Parables of life learned through blackberry picking | On Faith

A monthly column by Greg Asimakoupoulos dealing in matters of faith.

Donna Colosky is superintendent of the Mercer Island School District.
Welcoming students to a new school year

A guest column from Mercer Island School District Superintendent Donna Colosky.

SeaJAM, which kicks off the SJCC Arts + Ideas 2019–2020 season, will present “An Evening with Debra Messing” on Saturday, September 14, at Benaroya Hall’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall. Courtesy photo
SJCC prepares for second annual SeaJAM

SeaJAM will present “An evening with Debra Messing” on Sept. 14.

Photo courtesy of Greg Asimakoupoulos
                                A plaque commemorating the date the Asimakoupoulos family changed its name.
A summer to remember | On Faith

A monthly column dealing in faith.

Ready or not, college is arriving | Guest article

How parents can help their students embark on a college career.

Stephanie Quiroz/staff photos
                                Covenant Living at the Shores residents and staff with Ageless Aviation pilot and team at the Renton Municipal Airport on Aug. 12.
Covenant Living at the Shores Residents take flight

Tom Norris, Sid Boegl, Doug Wilkinson, and Jack Nelson take flight in a 1942 Boeing Stearman.

Leaving for college anxiety | Dear YFS

A monthly advice column about issues faced by Islanders.

Author Claire Gebben gives blacksmithing a go at Bruce Weakly’s private shop on Whidbey Island. Gebben sought to learn the art of blacksmithing to better understand the life of her great-great grandfather, who immigrated to Cleveland in the mid-1800s. Photo courtesy of Claire Gebben
Island author Gebben’s work named Indie Book Awards finalist

“How We Survive Here: Families Across Time” reveals genealogical journey.

Advice for addressing marijuana use in college students | Dear YFS

Dear YFS is an advice column with reader submitted or posed questions from the Island.