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Health Center: Parents' Frequently Asked Questions
Counselors and Nurse Practitioners are available during business hours 8:30am-4:30pm to consult with parents who have questions about how to assist their son or daughter with emotional or medical issues. Residence Life staff may also be able to help you if the problem involves their living situation, peers, or conduct problems. If your son or daughter is in need of immediate emergency assistance, appropriate law enforcement or hospital emergency personal should be contacted.
If your child is over the age of 18, he/she is legally an adult. In this situation, we require your son or daughter’s written consent in order to disclose any information about their treatment. It would be illegal and unethical for any counselor to disclose any type of information regarding your son or daughter’s treatment without his/her consent.
In cases, when a student is in eminent risk of harming themselves or others the counseling center will take steps to attempt to protect the student and others by communicating with the appropriate law enforcement and/or hospital emergency staff. In these rare cases, a written consent waving the right to confidentiality is not required.
Students present with a range of issues related to normal development. Some of these issues involve dating or relationship concerns, difficulties adjusting to college, career confusion, grief and loss, sexual identity concerns, religious or faith based concerns, or family difficulties.
Other students present with more specific mental health problems which involve eating disorders, sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, and/or substance abuse.
It is not uncommon for students to be a little unsure about the reasons for their unhappiness. In these cases counselors work with students to help them identify the underlying problem that are causing their distress and assist them in resolving their distressing symptoms (sleep problems, depression, anxiety).
While it is very painful and worrisome to see a son or daughter refuse help, neither parents nor the University can make decisions for your son or daughter and counseling is always a personal choice. If your son or daughter is refusing help, we encourage you to consult with a counselor at the Health Center to see if there is a way that you could encourage your son or daughter to get the help that they need.
Some students are very worried that they will look weak if they seek counseling. In these cases, it is important to remind your son or daughter that it actually takes a lot of courage and strength to face problems and to ask for support. As a parent, you may be able to talk with them about a time that you sought help for a problem that you could not resolve on your own and how talking to others helped you.
Other students worry that the information that they share in counseling will be shared with other students, professors, or coaches. It is essential that your son or daughter understand that the Health Center respect students’ legal and ethical right to confidentiality. Any information shared by the student is kept confidential and can not be shared with parents, faculty, coaches, or friends, without written permission from the student or in situations where there is clear or imminent danger to self or others.
In some cases students worry that coming to the Health Center for counseling requires a commitment to a certain number of sessions. These students may be relieved to find out that they can choose to speak to a counselor on a one-time basis. Students do not need to make a commitment to ongoing therapy.
Students are asked to call the Health Center to schedule first time appointments. Appointments can be scheduled with nurse practitioners for medical concerns, a pastoral counselor for spiritual or religious concerns or questions, a counselor for emotional issues, and/or a learning assistance counselor for support with academic and learning concerns. The Health Center is available to respond to psychological emergencies between the 8:30am and 4:30pm everyday. If your son or daughter is experiencing a psychological emergency, they should call the Health Center promptly for an immediate appointment.
Once students schedule their appointments, they are sent a set of Health Center forms to complete and bring into their appointment. The Health Center professional that meets with your son or daughter, will evaluate the nature and severity of their concerns and together with your son or daughter, will develop a course of action.
Some students quickly adjust to college life, while other students have a rockier and longer period of adjustment. It is not abnormal for your son or daughter to experience some tension or stress related to living in a dorm, developing new friends, or being exposed to new academic pressures. Being in a new environment may also be stressful because your son or daughter is surrounded by people that are new and unfamiliar (different ethnic, religious, economic background). All students experience these types of stressors at some point during college. While these challenges may make your son or daughter stressed out and result in many calls home, these challenges will also help them develop the skills necessary to navigate through the adult world and will increase their confidence in their ability to cope with adversity or setbacks.
During these times, make sure that you are available to listen to your son or daughter’s concerns and offer emotional support. It may be tempting to offer advice or try to fix the problem for them. However, we encourage parents to refrain from these behaviors unless their circumstances are extreme.
It may be helpful to brainstorm with them how they can go about getting support. Many students find it helpful to talk with their Resident Assistants or a priest on campus about roommate problems. Other students find it helpful to meet with a mental health professional at the counseling center to talk about their concerns. As a parent, you can share struggles that you have been through during college or in your career. Sometimes it is simply helpful for students to know that other people have been through similar challenges. It may be helpful to encourage your son or daughter to get involved in campus activities (volunteer work, sports, campus ministry). The more involved the student is, the more likely they are to feel like they fit in and develop friendships.
If you begin to recognize more severe symptoms such as depressed mood, suicidal thinking, drug use, social isolation, extreme weight loss, or persistent problems with grades, encourage your son or daughter set up an appointment with a counselor at the University Health Center. You may also call the University Health Center yourself and consult with a mental health professional about your concerns.
Your son or daughter is at a stage where they are developing their own sense of identity and uniqueness. During this period it is not uncommon to see your son or daughter engage in behaviors that are outside the realm of what they or the rest of the family would usually consider “normal” or “appropriate.” It is actually very normal for students to question their religion/faith, dress differently, change majors several times, date different types of people, and question values and morals that they grew up with. In most cases, parents will observe their son or daughter engaging in more extreme behavior when they first get to college. However, you should be reassured that most students gradually gravitate back to the many of the values they were raised with and come out of this period of experimentation with a more grounded and mature sense of who they are.
During this stage of your son or daughter’s growth, it is important for you as a parent to remain non judgmental and supportive. Your son or daughter needs to know that you respect their independence and uniqueness and that you love them unconditionally. Parent’s who reject their son or daughter, in attempt to control their behaviors, usually drive them further away and closer to the values and behaviors that they disapprove of.
Being available to spend time with your son or daughter is the most important gift you can give them. Most students want to know that their family missed them and wants to spend time with them when they are home. Asking your son or daughter how they want to spend their time at home may also be helpful. Many students end up spending a great deal of time with their friends from home during the holidays, so don’t be surprised if their friends see them more than you do.
It is not uncommon for students who are feeling overwhelmed to turn to their parents for help and advice. As a parent, you may be able to offer reassurance. At times, however, it can feel like your reassurances are not helping or are not enough. At these points, it may be helpful to consult with a mental health professional at the health center about the problem.
When you have conversations with your son or daughter ask them to talk to you about what life is like for them at the University and listen without giving advice or solutions. If you observe that your son or daughter has been missing classes, is socially withdrawn, is crying more frequently, has lost motivation, is having difficulty with anger management or substance use, or doesn’t seem to be happy anymore, it is a good idea to talk with your son or daughter about your concerns and refer them to the University Health Center for counseling. Generally it is recommended that you refer your son or daughter for counseling if their academic, social, or work functioning have become impaired.
Eating Disorders are a very serious mental health problem that impact all areas of a student’s life (academic, social, spiritual, family) and can lead to severe physical and psychological impairments. It is recommended that you call the Health Center and consult with a counselor if you have concerns that your son or daughter has an Eating Disorder. A counselor can talk to you about Eating Disorder warning signs and help you decide whether your son or daughter’s symptoms warrant an Eating Disorder evaluation. Depending on the nature of your son or daughter’s eating disorder symptoms, the counselor may recommend that your son or daughter receive an evaluation at the Health Center or at an Eating Disorder Treatment Center in the community.
Young adulthood is a period in time where many student’s experiment with new behaviors and activities. Some students begin to experiment with alcohol and/or other drugs for the first time during college, while other students bring substance dependence and abuse issues with them to college. Some signs that your son or daughter’s drinking or drug use is a problem may include: health problems, a drop in academic functioning, problems with work (e.g., absences and poor performance), an impairment in social functioning (e.g., fights, loss of friends, social isolation), and legal/judicial problems on or off campus. If you notice that your son or daughter is exhibiting these difficulties, this may be a sign that they have shifted from normal developmental experimentation with alcohol or drugs to alcohol or drug abuse or dependency. If you have questions about how to approach your son or daughter to talk about your concerns, call the UHC and ask to consult with a counselor.
For students with concerns about their drug and alcohol use, the Health Center offers assessment and consultation with a psychologist who can help them make decisions about whether or not they are in need of treatment. If it is determined that the student is in need of treatment, the counselor can work with the student to help them decide what type of treatment would be most appropriate. Treatment may include meeting with a counselor at the University Health Center for therapy, receiving therapy at a drug and alcohol treatment center, or entering a day treatment or residential treatment center for alcohol and drug use. The type of treatment recommended for your son or daughter would be based a very thorough assessment and an understanding of your son or daughter’s individual needs.
It is quite normal and expected for students to go through periods where they contact their parents less often. It seems important to ask yourself what is the reason underlying their lack of contact with you. Some students contact their parents less often when everything is going well and they are feeling confident about their academic and social life. Other students become more withdrawn from family and friends when they are stressed. For instance, during mid-terms and finals week it is not uncommon for students to be overwhelmed with academic responsibilities and to be very focused on school work rather than friends or family. A student’s ability to cope with stress on their own with less dependence on family to resolve their problems may actually be a healthy sign that they are becoming a responsible adult. However, if you believe that your son or daughters lack of contact is symptomatic of depression or another serious problem, it may be helpful to check in with them and ask them how they are doing. It may also be helpful to call the University Health Center and consult with a counselor about your concerns.