Tips for helping a child with mental health concerns transition to and from college

By Regence
May 10, 2023
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Sending your child off to college and then welcoming them back for summer break can be difficult transitions. They can be even harder when your child needs ongoing care for a mental health condition. Here are some tips to make the transitions go a bit more smoothly.

  • Arrange for ongoing care.
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      Your child may be able to continue care with their same provider even from another city since many providers offer services over the phone or through telehealth platforms. However, this may not be possible if their regular provider isn’t licensed in the state where your child will be living. Even if your child’s regular provider isn’t licensed in your child’s new state, another provider in the same practice might be and may be able to offer continued care. Talk to your child’s provider to see what options are available. Even if your child’s provider can’t provide treatment while your child is away at school, you may want to maintain a relationship with the provider so your child can resume treatment when they return home during breaks and after graduation.
    • Students can pre-register for helpful support services and accommodations, especially if they had an IEP in high school and want to continue the same accommodations in college. You’ll need to provide proof of previous diagnosis and IEPs when requesting support from the school.
    • Many schools offer on-campus student health centers that usually provide some mental health services, so check with the university to learn what’s available. You might want to consider the available mental health services as part of your criteria for picking a school. Colleges typically offer some mental health services for free to full-time students, but the services vary widely by school. Your child may be referred to off-campus providers for services the school doesn’t provide.
    • You might want to investigate what in-network mental health services are available near campus. Regence partners with providers all over the country, so you’ll likely be able to find an in-network provider even in a different state. You may want to check out public transportation options when choosing a provider to make sure your child can easily get to and from appointments.
    • Most of our health plans offer virtual mental health treatment options from services such as AbleTo Therapy+Doctor on DemandTalkspaceCharlie Health and more. Most of these services are available across the country, and your child may be able to use them both at home and at school.
  • Arrange to have access to information. If your child is over 18, you might want to have your child sign a pre-emptive Release of Information (ROI) document. This will allow you to have access to their health information and enable you to help coordinate their care.
  • Make a plan in case problems arise. All the new challenges college brings, along with being away from home for the first time, can make existing mental health issues worsen—or bring on new issues. Help your student plan what they’ll do if mental health concerns like stress, anxiety or depression become an issue. You may also want to purchase tuition insurance in case a crisis develops that requires your child to take a leave of absence from school.
  • Communicate often. Make time for regular phone conversations or video calls with your child so you can make sure they’re doing well and offer support. Regular communication will make it easier for your child to come to you with any problems they may experience. Don’t limit your conversations to just text messages or social media. You’ll be better able to detect changes in mood when you hear their voice or see their facial expressions.
  • Know the warning signs. Check out the video for your state linked in blue box above to learn the warning signs you should be watching for and explains how to help if your child experiences a crisis. 
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle. It’s easy for college kids to let good eating, sleep and exercise habits slip, but that can have a huge negative impact on mental health. Your child probably won’t want you nagging them to eat their vegetables and go to bed on time, so this will probably require some finesse.
  • Don’t push perfection. Mistakes are a part of growing up. Don’t make them feel like they must be perfect to earn your approval, which can amplify stress and anxiety. A perfect GPA isn’t worth sacrificing their wellbeing.

Mental health concerns are extremely common among college students. In fact, 60% of college students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to a survey of 1,000 students conducted by The Harris Poll last summer. Make sure your child knows it’s common to have mental health struggles and it’s ok to seek help.

We’re here to help

We can help you find behavioral health care options that fit your needs. Call our customer service team at the number listed on your member ID card to verify which virtual care and traditional behavioral health options are available through your health plan. Or sign in to your account on the web or use the Regence app and click the “Find Care” link to guide you to our Provider search tool pre-set with your network in place. Make sure to set your search in the location where your child is living.

In addition to the wide range of traditional and virtual mental health providers, most Regence members have access to specialized behavioral health care for those seeking help for eating disorders (Equip), obsessive-compulsive disorders (nOCD), and substance use disorders—Boulder Care, Eleanor Health (Washington only) and Hazelden Betty Ford (Oregon and Washington only). If your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), you can use the program confidentially and at low or no cost.

Remember 988 – the new National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. When people call, text, or chat 988, they’ll be connected to trained counselors who will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if needed.