Monday, February 14, 2011

Caring for the Mental Health of Your College Student

By Roberto A. Blanco, M.D.
A recently released national survey on the state of mental health for entering college students revealed that this year's freshmen class has the highest stress levels in the history of the 25 year survey.  There are several reasons.  According to study authors, students face increased competitiveness and demands in high school as well as more financial challenges due to today's economy.
Although it's an exciting time, your child's transition to college can be a difficult one - especially if he or she suffers from a mental illnessHere are some things that you and your prospective college student should be thinking about prior to choosing a university and heading off to school:
1.    What can I do to ease the college transition? 

Some schools offer an orientation program over the summer to help students become comfortable with the campus and surroundings, learn organizational and study skills and socialize with fellow freshmen.  

Apart from these organized programs, it is important that, as a parent, you work on transition issues and independence.  Make sure that your child has all materials needed for school including an organizer and a computer.  If your child is getting psychiatric treatment, teach your son or daughter the importance of their medicines, therapy and attending their appointments regularly.  If they haven’t yet been self-administering their medications, before going to college, it is important that they learn and start taking their medicines without supervision.

If you have serious concerns about how your child will do with the college transition, you may want to consider schools close to home.  Depending on the amount of concern, it may be best to choose a school which would allow your child to drive home for the weekend if needed.

2.   What’s the quality of the college's mental health program?

Some colleges and universities do not have mental health services available through the school.  If they don’t, you need to understand how a student can go about getting help.  If the school is not in a major city, you need to make sure that there are enough providers close by so that your child can get the services that he or she needs in a timely manner.

Some universities have therapists but no psychiatric providers on staff.  Others offer both counseling and psychiatric services but put a cap on the number of appointments at the university mental health center prior to referring students out to the community.  All of this information should be provided by each individual school.  And you should know all of this information prior to committing to a particular school, especially if your child is likely to use mental health services.

3.    What is the educational environment of the university?

Some universities are known to be high-pressure, unforgiving environments.  This could be due to the rigor, expectations or challenges of courses.  Sometimes, this can be eased by a strong academic support team or advising system.  Often, peers can make the university culture overly competitive in unhealthy ways.  Some places are notorious for students stealing other students’ lecture materials and notes or not helping out when needed.  If your child is particularly sensitive to stress, it may be best to go to a school where the environment is more collegial and supportive.

Other schools are notorious for having easy access to drugs or alcohol on campus.  While drugs and alcohol are available at most schools, they are easier to get at some schools which are located in major cities or areas of high accessibility.  If your child has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you should be extra considerate of these location factors.

4.    Will the financing of this school put my child in overwhelming debt?

While a good college education is one of the most important investments, your child should not mortgage his or her future by creating large amounts of unnecessary debt.  In addition, universities with higher tuition may necessitate your child working during school to avoid excessive debt.  This can also add stress.  If schools are relatively equivalent in meeting your child’s long-term career goals, choose the college which will put your child in a better financial position after he or she graduates.
Of course, after your children go to college, you will want to monitor how they are doing intermittently.  Particularly stressful times are usually at the beginning of school, around exam time (midterms and finals) and anytime a romantic relationship ends.  Checking in around these times may be the most beneficial.  If it turns out that they need more help than some parental TLC, make sure that they see a professional.
I hope that these suggestions have been helpful.  Feel free to leave comments or questions for further discussion.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Yoga Helps Heal Heart & Emotional Scars of Cancer

By Felicia Wong, M.D.

“Cancer is a very alienating and existential disease. I know of no other common disease that immediately causes so much fear, anxiety, depression, confusion, and a sense of impending disaster in a patient or his/her significant others when they hear the word “cancer” for the first time.” --- Murray Krelstein, MD, a psychiatrist and cancer survivor.
Although oncologists, family members, and friends can provide significant sources of support, adding a mental health professional to a cancer patient’s treatment team is often helpful. Talking about the emotions and worries associated with cancer can be difficult, and it is important to have a therapist who is familiar with these situations. Additionally, cancer patients and survivors often suffer from sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and other mood changes.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that among patients receiving chemotherapy, over three-quarters suffer from insomnia. Those who suffer from insomnia are, in turn, more likely to suffer from fatigue and depression. For 65% of cancer survivors, insomnia continues even after the completion of chemotherapy.
Cancer is a diagnosis that affects both body and mind. So, it makes sense that cancer patients and survivors practice yoga to improve their quality of life.
While research on the use of yoga for cancer is relatively new, there have been recent studies confirming yoga’s mental health benefits. A Harvard Health Publication highlights the benefits of yoga for stress, depression, and anxiety:
- By reducing perceived anxiety, yoga appears to adjust stress response systems. This, in turn, reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and can make breathing easier.
- There is evidence that yoga practices helps increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's ability to respond to stress more flexibly.
Optimizing wellness after a cancer diagnosis and beyond involves a complex integration of interventions that address both the mind and the body. Ideally, a psychiatrist is part of the cancer treatment team. However, if this is not available, please ask your doctor for referrals.
For additional resources on coping with cancer:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Talking To Kids About Disappointment In Sports

By Claudia Reardon, M.D.

Participating in sports is generally thought of as a physically and emotionally healthy activity for children and teenagers. However, it is inevitable that children who play sports will at some point deal with disappointment. Not every play or game will go their way. While dealing with this disappointment can be difficult for children, it's also a great opportunity for growth. The excitement of the Super Bowl and other winter sporting events provide a chance to talk with your children about disappointment.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you parent or coach a child or teenager who is dealing with disappointment in sports:

1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings about what happened. For example, you can say, “I understand that you are feeling really upset that you didn’t win the race.” Of course, this does not mean that you should agree with catastrophic statements that they might make, such as that they are the worst player that ever played or that their life is ruined because of a bad game.

2. It’s okay if kids don’t want to talk about a disappointing game or event immediately. You might simply acknowledge their feelings and tell them that you’re there for them to talk whenever they want to.

3. Help your children shift focus to what they did RIGHT on the playing field. This is especially important if your child is a perfectionist, in which case he or she is likely to focus on the one mistake rather than seeing the “big picture” of everything he or she has done right.

4. It’s certainly okay if your children’s disappointment leads them to want to improve their sports skills. Help them figure out exactly what skill they would like to improve, and then brainstorm ways to improve in that area. They might even ask for suggestions from the coach. Help your children set realistic goals and then give them praise as they work toward those goals.

5. Ask your children if they think their favorite athletes ever make mistakes in their sport. If these athletes said that they were terrible players and wanted to quit after one bad play or bad game, would your children agree with that? Of course not!

6. Disappointment is a great opportunity to reinforce resilience and determination. Remind your child that he or she is “the kind of person who doesn’t give up easily.”

7. If a child is disappointed in his or her sporting performance, that is not an excuse for poor sportsmanship. It is not okay for them to express their disappointment as anger toward the winner.

8. Remind your children that failing to make a good play or to win a game does not mean that they’re a failure overall. There still are lots of great things about them, and everyone fails sometimes. Remind them of all the things they have done well recently.