Local Mother’s Advice: The “College Talk” Should Include Mental Health Issues


Thirteen years ago, I lost my son Chris to suicide when he was a senior at Weston High School. Chris was a bright, sensitive young man with great promise who had struggled with depression for several years.

Since that tragic event, my life lesson has been that of how to transform the loss of my son into something positive that will help others.

I try to accomplish that transformation by speaking publicly about his death by suicide, educating others about suicide prevention and mental health at high schools and colleges and advocating for children, teens and young people who live with mental health challenges through organizations like the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board and the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board.

Today, there is a lot of good news about mental health – there are more treatments, strategies and community supports than ever before. However, there is still much bias, ignorance and avoidance when it comes to the topic of mental health.

I was reminded of this several months ago when I was reading a blog written by Jay Boll, the Vice President of Laurel House  and Resources to Recover.

In his August 18, 2014 blog post “Off to College: A Mental Health Checklist for Parents of First-Year Students” (www.rtor.org\off-to-college), Jay talks about the checklist of items most parents talk about with their teens before their teens leave for college.

Jay writes that it is a common practice for parents to have a variety of “talks” with their teens about drinking, drugs and sex, and then notes that a talk about mental health is usually not on the list but should be.

I thought about how right he was, that we give our teens endless information, posit different “what if” situations and talk through possible safety plans when it comes to drinking, drugs and sex but when it comes to mental health, not so much.

  • How informed is your teen when it comes to dealing with a possible mental health problem at college? For example:
  •  Does your teen know some of the most common warning signs of a mental health problem?
  •  Have you talked through a plan with your teen about what to do if he believes he may be experiencing a mental health crisis?
  •  Does your teen know what to do if one of his friends is acting depressed or says he is thinking about killing himself?

Before you say to yourself “that would never happen to my child or any of my child’s friends,” consider the following statistics on college students and mental health from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • 75% percent of lifetime cases of mental health conditions begin by age 24.
  •  1 in 4 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental health condition.
  • More than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45 percent have felt things were hopeless.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students; in fact in a recent Emory University study, 1 in 10 college students were found to have a “suicide plan.” Jay Boll in his blog on Resources to Recover suggests some of the following talking points for parents who want to start the conversation about mental health with their teen:

  • Starting college is exciting but it can also cause anxiety and other stress related symptoms
  • Anyone can develop a mental health problem – there is nothing that makes any of us immune
  • Mental health conditions are like other illnesses, they can be diagnosed and treated

The odds are that your teen or your teen’s friend or roommate will experience a mental health problem during their college years.

In anticipation of this, it may be wise to develop a plan with your teen. Know what resources are available at your teen’s college, not only for mental health but also “mental wellness.” Activities like meditation and yoga can support a state of “mental wellness” even in stressful times.

I remember when I was seeking help and services for my son and how alone I felt. I wish I had known about a program and website like Laurel House and rtor.org.

Laurel House is a non-profit organization that provides critical support programs and services to those living with mental health issues and their families. Laurel House’s exciting new initiative, Resources to Recover, is a gateway website with online and phone support where families in search of expert mental health services and information can explore service provider options via online chat or phone with Resources to Recover Resource Specialists. This service has a regional focus on families living in CT, NY, NJ and MA.

I feel privileged that Laurel House has identified me as a volunteer who will be honored at their annual fundraiser for my advocacy work in making our communities a better place.

The following are some ways in which you can support the work of Laurel House, Resources to Recover and the families they serve:

Buy some tickets and come to the Laurel House Derby Dinner Dance at the Woodway Country Club in Darien on May 2!

If you can’t come, buy some tickets for someone else!

Make a donation to honor the recovery journey of a loved one.

Make a donation of gratitude for the wellness of your family.

Make a donation on behalf of other families who may be struggling, sometimes in silence.

Additional Resources:

Holly Hinds lives in Weston and can be reached at [email protected]