Mental health in college students

Check out these conversation starters to help you talk about mental health and wellness with your college student.

Conversation starters to engage your college student

Navigating the transition to college can be challenging for many young adults. For some, it may be the first time they’ve truly been away from home. For others, learning styles, food insecurity, or making new friends could dominate their worries. Feelings of stress and anxiety are common in college students. According to JED, nearly a third of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced a mental, emotional, or behavioral health issue in the past year. If you have a college student in your life, check out these conversation starters to engage in a conversation about mental health.


6 Conversation starters to help you check-in

Going to college is an exciting but stressful time in an individual’s life. During this time in a college student’s life, it is important to check in with them and be supportive. It may be tempting to give a bunch of advice, but these conversation starters are for starting a conversation, not building a pedestal for you to give a speech on.


6. How are you?

This one might seem obvious, but asking the college student in your life how they’re doing is a good start, but it’s not enough. Asking them how they’re doing and actively listening is critical. For a variety of reasons, the “how are you” question can feel a bit generic, probably because it’s asked so frequently merely as a formality. However, asking this question and meaning it can help build trust. If you have a solid relationship with the student you’re talking to, they might feel comfortable sharing some of the highs and lows they’re experiencing. Following up with some of the questions below can help you dig a little deeper while checking in.


5. What’s a typical day like for you?

This question will help you get a sense of the joys and challenges the college student in your life is facing on a daily basis. This goes without saying, but be sure to actually listen. You might pick up on some things that help you understand how the student you’re talking with is doing. For example, you might notice that they don’t spend enough time resting and relaxing. Or, maybe they have free time and aren’t sure how to manage it. Learning what a typical day is like for the college student in your life could be a helpful way to find out how they’re doing.


4. How are you practicing self-care?

It’s usually good to be direct. Try asking your college student how they’re taking care of themselves. If some follow-up is needed, you can ask how their sleep schedule has been or if they’re making time to rest. Exercise and healthy eating are important, but the topic can also be triggering to some people. If the student you’re talking with struggles with food insecurity, make sure they’re aware of on-campus resources as well as off-campus resources they can access. If you don’t know what’s available to help, consider advocating for your student and helping them figure out where they can get some support. Usually, the university’s student services is a good place to start.


3. Tell me about your classmates/friends.

When you’re checking in on the college student in your life, consider asking about the people they spend time with. You’ll get a sense of the support systems they have and whom they talk to when they’re stressed. You might notice that the student you’re talking with is lonely or lacks community. Find out if your student might be involved in some clubs or organizations. If not, encourage them to get involved on campus or in the community.


2. Which classes excite you the most? Which ones do you find boring?

When starting college, a student may be set on a career path. But that can change while they take different classes and subjects. Students who aren’t engaged in their classes have a much higher chance of dropping out. It’s important to ask the college student in your life about what classes they love, and those they don’t enjoy. Encourage them to explore subjects that they are more interested in, even if it’s not part of their career path. Support them in advocating for themselves and talking to an advisor or counselor if they are struggling with classes or career choices.


1. Do you need help?

If you suspect the college student in your life needs professional help in navigating their mental health, it’s important to say something. Their campus likely has a mental health center where they can see a counselor. If you suspect that they’re in crisis, call 911 immediately or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


What to do if you or someone needs help

If you or someone you know is struggling, below are resources off and on Concordia’s campus to use to get help. Remember that if there is an emergency call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mental Health Awareness Month, check out this post that explains why this month is important.

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