Bringing your child home from college for mental health reasons is terrifying. Many parents have shared their fearful trip of driving to the college to pick up the pieces of their child's lost semester; kids so depressed they haven't left their room in weeks, have fallen behind on all of their school work and become so anxious about academic failure that the cycle becomes a virtual tornado whirling inside the poor kid's soul. After being dismissed from the mental health center and packing up the dorm, the families find themselves in uncharted territory. Our child is home, our child is really struggling, our child won't get out of bed, our child has no peers around. How can we make it right?
Enter Laurie Levine. When I get the frantic call, I schedule the assessment for as soon as possible. Usually the parents come in for the first session and I never see them again (they are left to pay the bill, contain the worry and get a vague update every few months). That is good, that is how it should be; the teen establishes a nice rapport with me and begins to delve into his presenting problems in an independent and adult-like manner.
What went wrong at college? How is it that so many students are able to make it work in what appears to be a seamless manner when others find themselves back in their childhood beds struggling with mental health issues, legal charges or or sometimes somatic symptoms brought on by stress?
Each kid has his unique story. Be it a predisposition to depression, an uncomfortable roommate scenario triggering despondency or an over arduous academic load. Sometimes college or this specific college is not a good fit for a specific student. That is okay, it saddens me though, that to find the right fit there are often periods of despair and worry both for the student and the family.
I work with the teen on the initial complaints until she is feeling stabilized. Sometimes a referral to a psychiatrist is necessary when medication is indicated, other times weekly therapy isn't enough and we bump up the intensity for a short time. Usually, the crisis period is short lived (weeks to a month) and then the task becomes identifying and processing deeper core issues to avoid a relapse back to the malfunctioning behaviors.
Meanwhile, there are many hours per week that the client is not in therapy. Lying in bed should not be tolerated for more than a day and half. Family discussions about employment, local schooling and household chores can cause conflict especially when the teen is still feeling low. I always encourage structure in one's day, especially in the case of depression, he needs to get up, shower and have a reason to leave the house.
I am happy to say that the kids that I have worked with have had good outcomes. One student took a semester and a half off and then returned to his original school. We did Skype sessions upon his return to school and then terminated after his first semester back because he was doing so well. Another student struggled with such depression that after coming home, it was a struggle to just get her in for her session. After a year of good therapy and the proper medication regime, she found her calling in another field and attended a certification program. She is now working in her chosen career and has not received therapy in over a year. I've worked with several students that have settled in to some classes at Northern Virginia Community College during their time at home. Most of them have had very positive experiences which has afforded them the time to work on their mental health challenges while also continuing with their education.
You are probably thinking: "Thanks Laurie for sharing your professional experiences with us, but what can we do to avoid being the next boomerang family on your caseload?" I will fully oblige with such recommendations in a Part 2 to this post. Give me a few days to collect my thoughts and I will be back here with brilliant (?) suggestions.