Maintaining Good Mental Health in Teens Leaving Home for College

An article about mental health and college students appeared in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago, just in time for the newly admitted group of college freshman and their parents to address the expected challenges encountered after children leave home.

While most teens appear exhilarated about entering this new life phase, many also feel the anxiety and uncertainty that accompanies change.

As reported in the article, the statistics for the treatment of anxiety and depression for college-age youngsters are staggering:

About 14.3% of college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems during the past year, and 12% were diagnosed with or treated for depression, according to a spring 2014 survey of 79,266 college students by the American College Health Association. That is up from 10.4% for anxiety and 10.2% for depression in the fall 2008 survey. Anxiety and depression are the most common disorders, according to the survey.

The following list, created by Anne Marie Albano at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, pinpoints specific skills that college-age students should have acquired before they’re ready to be on their own:

  • Make doctor/dentist appointments.
  • Get enough sleep—without parental prodding.
  • Make travel reservations and get to the airport or train station.
  • Advocate for themselves with teachers and other authority figures.
  • Manage a budget.
  • Manage emotional upheavals.

I have created a similar college prep list for twins who are separating from each other and attending different colleges:

  • Don’t expect instant intimacy with college friends.
  • Try not to compare your experience with your twin’s.
  • Realize that social anxiety might be heightened for a while if you have relied on your twin to make you feel comfortable meeting new people.
  • Anticipate adjusting to a new identity rather than relying upon your twin identity to define you.
  • Know that learning how to feel motivated on your own might take some time.
  • Recognize that you may have a tendency to look for a twin-like friend or partner to re-create the twin connection that you are missing.
  • Remember that change—even good change—is stressful.
  • Expect to have frequent communication with your twin at the beginning of the school year; it will taper off as each of you becomes adjusted to your new circumstances.

If you have any tips to help teens—twins or singletons—prepare for college, please share them with me.

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