With all of the talk of students suffering from anxiety and depression, I would like to share my son’s story in the hope it can help someone else and perhaps give some perspective to the stress that so many of our kids feel.
My son had a good freshman year of college with the usual stressors but, overall, he acclimated well.
Fall of sophomore year was difficult. He’s an athlete and he was injured (nothing that affected his school work but he was unable to train at full strength), he was taking some very hard classes, and he had a less than ideal housing situation. He told me in October that he was really feeling down and stressed.
He saw the psychiatrist who treats his ADD over Thanksgiving break and started taking an anti-depressant. The turnaround was almost instantaneous and he finished the semester strong with good grades. He seemed to be feeling good over Winter Break and was looking forward to second semester.
The night before classes began, he had a severe downward spiral. Fortunately, he let a roommate know how he was feeling (the first time he ever shared his feelings with any of his friends). The roommate called another friend who has experienced these feelings and he stayed up all night with my son. About 8:00 am, my son called and told me about his night and that his friend was taking him to the counseling center. He described it as “I have this panicking feeling inside of me.”
He and the psychologist at the counseling center spoke to his psychiatrist at home and they decided he should go to the hospital. The main concern was how quickly he spiraled downward with no apparent trigger. There are very few phone calls that are worse than your child calling to say he is being sent to the psychiatric unit at the local hospital – especially when you live 500 miles away and you are completely snowed in.
Late afternoon I received a 58-second phone call from him where he was crying so hard I could barely understand him. They had taken his phone and his belongings and he was only allowed to make local calls – I’m not sure how he even called me for that short time. His psychiatrist called the hospital for me and found a number where I could call and get some information. My son had signed a release to allow them to share his info with me or I would not have been able to speak to anyone.
He spent 5 days in the hospital where they added another anti-depressant and taught him coping skills and he got to “take a break” from life for a little while. His friends and teammates rallied behind him and he had visitors every day for both visiting sessions. He really learned who his friends are and what a community he has built in a short period of time.
His university takes an active role in helping students transition back to school after situations such as this. He is required to have regular visits with a local psychiatrist and a therapist as well as biweekly meetings with someone from the Residential Life office.
He initiated a meeting with each of his professors and fully explained the situation. The counseling center let the professors know he was in the hospital – without any details about which hospital or the type of ailment for privacy reasons – and that his absences were excused. He felt that they should know so they understand if he struggles this semester and that his reason for missing class was valid.
He is now trying to catch up on the days of class he missed while managing his stress. He looks at his To Do List and thinks “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” He also writes down the worst possible scenario and develops a plan to deal with it. These coping skills are helping him for now but it needs to be a lifestyle change, not a one-time tactic.
His friend who experienced this a couple of years ago explained it to me this way – college kids are caught between adolescence and adulthood. They are trying to be adults and they feel like they should be adults, but they’re not quite ready to fully be adults.
Urge your children to share their feelings of stress, anxiety and depression with you and/or with a trusted friend. Also, tell them to sign a medical release if they go to the counseling center or a hospital so that you’re able to help them. And, above all, remind them that there is no shame in showing vulnerability. It takes a strong person to recognize when they need help. I am so thankful that my son did all of these things so he could get the help he needed.
The writer prefers to remain anonymous.