The mental health of students at university has been making headlines for some time now and is a growing issue. Therefore, if you are a parent preparing your child for university, it is vital to consider how you can help them get ready for problems like isolation, loneliness, stress and financial worries.
In this short guide, The Spark offers up our top mental health tips for parents of university students.
Preparing your child for university: making new friends
Greater independence at university brings with it many opportunities and challenges, like making friends. Loneliness and isolation are major causes of mental health issues for university students. Not every university fresher is a social butterfly so you can help support your child at uni with some tips about building new relationships.
Firstly, encourage your daughter or son to look into whether their university offers any mentoring or buddy schemes. These typically match first-year students with seasoned university seniors or pair newbies together, offering at least one friendly face during freshers week. Many schemes set up WhatsApp groups or other online forums so students can meet digitally in advance of starting university.
Suggest checking out clubs, groups and associations that might be of interest. Most universities have plenty of information online about these clubs and most are present at university open days and during freshers week. Having a chat with existing members of a group is a great way to find out more and to start meeting likeminded students on campus.
Alternatively, encourage your teenager to read tips and advice online about making new friends at uni. The Spark has its own guide – Dealing with isolation at university – and websites like Student Minds and Young Minds can also be helpful.
Agree upon a plan of when and how to keep in touch
Avoid “she/he hasn’t called” worries and tense “stop calling me mum, I’m fine!” phone calls by agreeing in advance how to keep in touch. Would a daily text message and weekly FaceTime suit? What about visits home and to campus?
Keeping in touch is important; it reminds your daughter/son that they have your love and support, and it helps ease empty-nest symptoms and worries for mum and dad. But striking the right balance is essential to give young people the space to grow and flourish.
You know your child best so look out for mental health issues
Parents know their children best. With a plan agreed for keeping in touch it is easier for mum and dad to spot issues of concern regarding their mental health.
Until friendships at uni develop, it can be difficult for fellow students to spot the signs of low mood or depression. If a student is struggling with loneliness, there may not be anyone to confide in or to offer support.
Therefore, keep in touch and look for signs that your daughter or son might be struggling. Changes in their mood, how they interact on the phone and how they look when you visit can all be indicators that they are unhappy at uni.
Preparing your child for university: financial pressures
Financial worries can negatively impact the mental health of new students. Living away from home and managing a budget for the first time is challenging, even for today’s increasingly self-sufficient teenagers.
Offer some practical help in the months before they leave for university. For example, teach them easy and cost-effective meals for when they move out. Give them responsibility for making dinner for the family a few times a week and get them managing the weekly food budget. And if you have not done it already, stop doing all their washing for them.
New students can struggle to budget for the academic year if a big lump of cash lands in their account at the start of term. Show them how to create separate pots for rent, food, monthly bills and going out. If you are supporting them financially, consider giving them money on a monthly or quarterly basis and not in one lump sum.
Try not to make it all about you
Leaving home for university is a major life transition for both student and parent. Worrying about how they are going to get on, empty-nest feelings and more can make it a hard time for parents. It is very easy to let these concerns and worries impact how parents prepare their child for uni.
Try to take a step back during the build-up to the new term and consider if you are focusing on yourself or are making the right preparations for your son/daughter. It is possible to make preparations that will help both parents and their children to cope with the transition to university life.
Speak to your partner, a close friend or a professional counsellor if your worries are becoming an issue. Particularly if you think they are having a negative impact on your relationship with your son or daughter.
Mental health support for students and their parents
Universities do offer student wellbeing and counselling services on campus which are a great resource for supporting student mental health. In some cases, they also provide listening services which can be helpful in making sense of your situation.
For students studying in Scotland, The Spark provides a range of counselling and support services. The charity offers individual counselling sessions – in-person and telephone – as well as running the free and confidential Counselling Helpline. This is Scotland’s only telephone helpline dedicated to relationship issues.