Back to school: Monarch psychiatrist discusses ways to help reduce the anxiety associated with starting or returning to school
From kindergarten to college, students are preparing for the classroom. For some, that means beginning school for the first time; for others, it’s a new grade or leaving home to start their freshmen year of college.
With the new changes and challenges, anxiety and stress can often be triggered. Dr. Randall Purdy (pictured right), a Monarch psychiatrist, offers insight and tips for parents and students alike to help navigate the upcoming academic waters.
Heading off to college This year, more than a million people across the United States will start their freshmen year of college. As exciting as a new season of life can be, it can also trigger feelings of stress, anxiety and even more serious mental health conditions.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 75 percent of lifetime cases of mental health conditions begin by age 24. As teens are leaving home to begin a new academic career, they are also learning to navigate a new social and emotional environment. As a result, their mental health is often at its most vulnerable.
Often mental disorders are triggered in college because of change and stress, according to Purdy, and also because many psychiatric disorders are genetic and tend to show up in the late teens and early 20s. Many college students also struggle with depression, which can stem from the stress and transition, as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
According to an American College Health Association study, 30 percent of all college students felt so depressed they found it difficult to function during the school year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age youth with over 1,100 deaths per year.
When it comes to depression and mental health Dr. Purdy said it’s important for college students to remember they’re not alone, and he stressed the importance of getting help.
“Don’t keep it a secret, talk with other people; look into your counseling center’s services. Talking to the people around you can help direct you to the right services, and many times you will find your residential assistant and others have been through some of the same experiences and can give helpful advice,” he said. Here are other helpful tips for navigating college life:
Get eight hours of sleep: For many college students this can be hard. But regular sleep and routine are key to a balanced academic life.
Eat well: Many college students eat a lot of junk food, it’s important to have a balanced diet and to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and cut out eating late at night.
Make sure you have a social support system: Get involved in clubs, find people that like things you like, or those with similar interests in your dorm or classes.
Keep your support system at home: Whether it’s by phone, or visits, don’t lose the ties of people who offer good support and guidance from home.
Keep up with your classes: One of the biggest stressors in college is people getting behind in their classes and feeling like they can’t catch up.
Returning to Traditional School Going back to school, or starting a new grade can be a big transition for younger children. Many children are anxious and can get stressed about the upcoming changes to the new school year. Dr. Purdy advises parents not to discount these fears. “Your child’s fear and anxiety is real and it’s there. Remind them they aren’t the only ones with these fears, they’ll have a whole class and group of kids exactly like them.”
Tips for parents: Start transitioning from summer schedule to school schedule ahead of time: Don’t go from staying up until 2 a.m. to getting ready for school the next say. Start transitioning back two weeks prior to the start of school if possible.
Help your kids get all the information ahead of time: Go to the school, map out their classes and schedule and go over it with them the help relieve some of the stress of the unknown.
Know where your kids stand: Are they reading at grade level, do they need extra work? Keep up with their grades and provide support/find support if they need extra work in a specific subject.
Consistency: Kids do much better with consistency, but boundaries help create safety and understanding as to what is allowed.
Established in 1958, Monarch is a non-profit that provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse challenges. The agency is nationally accredited by The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) and certified by The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency (CABHA). Monarch operates The Arc of Stanly County, which is a chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States.