MENTAL wellbeing is an important part of university life – so how can parents and carers help?
Is there a teenager in your household heading to university later this year? For many, this will be their first time living away from home – and parents and carers are going to want to help them get ready. Beyond the obvious though (like kitting them out with pots and pans and hoping at least some of their student loan is spent on groceries), you might be thinking about how you can help them prepare psychologically and support their mental wellbeing at university.
It’s definitely important to be aware of mental health at university. But Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury, chief medical officer at Onebright (onebright.com), the UK’s largest outpatient mental healthcare company, says it’s important to “think about the positives” as well. “This is going to be a great time of their lives. Three years having fun, with a bit of studying on the side!” says Pendlebury. “It’s about going into it with a positive outlook and realising there will be challenges – but setting it up so they are ready to problem-solve, rather than be overwhelmed by things.”
It’s “a time of big changes with many new things to navigate,” acknowledges Rebecca Bow, senior wellbeing adviser at Birmingham City University, who says it’s usual for students to experience “exciting” and “challenging” moments, so it can “sometimes feel like a bit of a bumpy ride”.
Rebecca says it’s a good idea to “have a plan about when and how they’ll be keeping in touch and what feels right for everybody involved”.
Dr Pendlebury notes it can be a “very fine balance” between being supportive and knowing how intrusive to be (especially when ‘empty nest syndrome’ hits) and you will “want to think about how you’re changing the communication with [them] so that it’s age-appropriate as they become adults”.
Discussing it together means you can keep connections up and have those regular check-ins in a way that suits your family and your young person’s needs. For some it might be a WhatsApp group, says Rebecca. “It might be a weekly phone call, or a monthly visit, perhaps FaceTime with the family pets,” adds Dr Pendlebury. If they do reach out and tell you they’re having a hard time, Rebecca says “the most important thing is to give them space to talk about it and to listen”.
Dr Pendlebury adds: “Listening sounds very easy, but if you think your child is distressed, it can be very hard to just listen and not jump to conclusions. So you really want to be curious, non-judgemental and set up that line of communication.”
"They can find out about wellbeing services at their university at open days and welcome events – but you might want to help them look it up in advance.
Are there specific services for autistic students, those with dyslexia and social anxiety, for example? Encourage them to register with a GP in good time too.
They can also find resources online and access free counselling and helplines through organisations like Student Minds (studentminds.org.uk)