Five Tips for College Students Who Need Counseling

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
The stress of change can make mental illnesses, like depression or anxiety, flare up. And college students — with new routines, new responsibilities and still-underdeveloped brains — are especially vulnerable. In fact, the American College Health Association reports that at least 30 percent experience depression that makes it “difficult to function.”
Unfortunately, as Newsweek reported recently, many students have been “punished for seeking help” from campus health services. Some students who sought help experienced interrogations, dismissal from college and even commitment to a psychiatric hospital. If stigma doesn’t keep students from seeking help, fear of such repercussions may.
Despite such reports, there’s no need to let fear keep you suffering in silence. If you’re a student and suspect a mental health problem, these tips can you get effective help.

1. Know Your School’s Confidentiality Policies

daza-2011Confidentiality can be a concern, since many schools require their mental health counselors to inform administration of potential dangers that could affect the safety of students and faculty. “Ideally, students should be aware from the start if information will be shared with university staff,” says Patricia Daza, PhD, program manager of Menninger’s Compass Program for Young Adults.
Assume, unless official policy expressly forbids it, that your words may be repeated to the higher-ups.

2. Know Exactly What You Want to Discuss

Before your first appointment, Dr. Daza says to deliberately review “awareness of your thoughts and feelings and those of others.” Consider: Why am I struggling? What stressors am I not attuned to? How might my struggles be affecting others?
When meeting with a college counselor, demonstrate a clear and reasonable understanding of the problem and know what you want to accomplish in the counseling sessions.

3. Seek Help Making a Wellness Plan

Be solutions-minded and have specific goals for treatment. “Mental health professionals can help students create a wellness plan that addresses short- and long-term goals,” Dr. Daza says. A wellness plan serves as a blueprint of possibilities for the immediate future, which can help you stay the course of treatment.

4. Anticipate Some Push Back

Whatever your mental health counselor says, at least consider it. The right advice may not be the advice you want. If this is your first experience with counseling and you’ve been a high-achieving student, you may expect a quick fix so you can get back to living life at your usual fast pace.
“Trained mental health personnel will sometimes recommend options which students may not like,” says Dr. Daza. “Taking a semester off, seeking more intensive inpatient work and dropping classes to minimize stress are not uncommon recommendations.” But rejecting such ideas on reflex might mean rejecting the best treatment option.

5. You Have a Choice

If you have serious doubts, get a second opinion. Consider making an appointment with a counselor in the community where you are attending classes or your hometown, particularly a professional with expertise in working with young adults. To find such an expert, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.