Spring is (almost) in the air! It’s easy to get caught up in Spring Break planning or daydreams of lazy summer days, but the truth is that the Spring semester often brings increased levels of stress and anxiety. Students often do not think about their ongoing health care needs, especially when it comes to mental health. While depression, anxiety and other conditions may be well-managed at home, or put on the back burner with the newness of the Fall semester, the long Spring semester may offset whatever balance students may have attained. Many students plan to see their medical professionals when they go home. Unfortunately, semester breaks often aren’t long enough for students to get home and see their normal providers. Students often have to miss classes to get home to see their provider on a week day. While we understand that adding another provider is often challenging, scary, and time-consuming, students who have local support teams in place lose less class time and often recover faster than those who rely on care teams that are far away.
Consider a Local Provider
One thing we often see are students who worked with a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist at home, and who try to continue relationships with these practitioners by phone while at Gonzaga. While phone conversations are certainly better than no conversations at all, they are not an adequate substitute for in-person meetings. In fact, studies show that 85 to 90% of communication is non-verbal. A clinician is more likely to witness a change in a student’s appearance or read their non-verbal signals if they are seeing the student live and in-person. Phone contact alone is risky; the clinician may miss important cues that your student is struggling. Phone calls just don’t allow for the kind of face-to-face interactions that truly facilitate the best possible treatment.
This is where parents can play a vital role in helping students prepare for adult decision making around their personal health and self care choices. We strongly encourage the following steps:
- Talk with your student about your concerns for his/her health care needs.
- Because providers often take some time to get established with, now is the time to start asking for referrals to practitioners close to Gonzaga. Many providers are able to refer to others who have a similar style or approach.
- Consider signing waivers now to allow copies of medical records to be shared with your student’s care team in Spokane.
- Work out any insurance or financial needs with providers now. This avoids any confusion or delays during the academic year.
- Meet with these practitioners when you are in town for move in.
- Contact the GU Counseling Center (509-313-4054) for help with referrals in the community, and talk with your student about when they might need to think about accessing on-campus services (i.e., what are their personal warning signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns?)
What about Medications?
If your student takes on-going medications, does he/she know how to refill the medication? There is a pharmacy within walking distance of the campus. Having your student work with his/her doctor to move prescriptions to a Spokane pharmacy is a great first opportunity for your student to learn how to navigate the medical system. Some of these things may seem so simple, but are often tasks that parents have done for students. Now is a great time to coach your student on how to do these things independently.
Students with medical or psychiatric conditions are strongly encouraged to reach out to the DREAM Office. DREAM can discuss disability accommodations and assist with finding local medical providers. Securing accommodations for a medical condition can take several weeks, so contact DREAM if you need information.
Students often say that they want a fresh start in college and won’t seek accommodations that they may have had in high school. Other students don’t seek accommodations because they feel like their conditions are already well managed. While both of these thoughts are well intended, they do not take into account how much the changing academic and social environment of college will affect their health. We often stress to students that simply having these plans in place, even if they never need them, is much better than not having any plan when they do need one.
Talk about it!
We encourage you to have honest, caring conversations with your student. Assess how self aware your student is about his/her medical conditions. Consider:
- Does your student take his/her medications regularly without being prompted?
- What other major life transitions has your student gone through? What impact did those transitions have on his/her health?
- Is your student able to self-identify when his/her condition is worsening? What signs do you see when his/her condition is worsening? Are those the same as what your student notices about him/her self?
- What providers should your student have in place close to GU?
- How would your student get to appointments with providers? The Health Center on campus may have access to no cost taxi service for medical appointments. Feel free to call their office for more details.
- What is your emergency plan if a health condition begins to negatively affect your student’s interpersonal or academic experience?
Gonzaga’s Health Center and Counseling Center are available to discuss with you their services and help make referrals to local practitioners. Feel free to reach out to either of these offices, or the DREAM or Student Life office to talk with someone about your concerns or get more information. Remember—proper planning now can alleviate major challenges in the future.
But I’m Worried about my Student Right Now
Some parents may be reading this article concerned about what is going on with their student right now. It isn’t uncommon that the stresses of a semester, academic, social or otherwise, cause students to struggle. If you think your student is struggling right now, please reach out to our staff. Any of the offices listed in the resource section below can help you get connected to staff members who can reach out to your student. You can also call the Student Life office. This office has two case managers whose main role with GU is to reach out and help struggling students get connected with resources that can help them.
If you have questions or concerns, please encourage your student to reach out to any of the following Gonzaga offices:
Disability Resource Education and Access Management (DREAM)
Student Life Office