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Mental and physical health 101: Essential tips and resources for your college student


Whole-body health and wellness are the foundation for students’ success. Here’s what you need to know.

So, your kids have picked out their dorm room furniture, secured their meal plans and are ticking off the college checklist. Be sure that list includes resources for mental and physical health.

After all, college is the first time many students will manage multiple responsibilities on their own without the structure, guidance and support they may be used to at home. Help set your new and returning students up for success with the following tips:

Ensure they have proper health insurance coverage Also, see to it that your student carries his or her health insurance card(s) and is generally familiar with plan benefits. For more on college student health insurance coverage, look here.

Make sure your kids are up to date with vaccines While colleges may not require the COVID vaccination or annual flu shot, both are recommended by health experts. College kids are often in crowded surroundings and often have less-than-stellar sleep routines and diets. Which leads to our next tip.

Emphasize the importance of routines and good health habits That means getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and regular meals, and getting physical activity. Research speaks to the positive connection between healthy behaviors and academic performance.  For example, good sleep has been shown to be instrumental for memory, decision-making and learning.

Start the conversation about mental health before they leave And keep the conversation going. Mental health issues among college students have soared in the past decade. The Healthy Minds Study, a survey of about 350,000 students from 373 campuses between 2013 and 2021, revealed that more than 60 percent of students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem in 2020-2021, an almost 50 percent jump from 2013. Students of color experienced the most increase in mental concerns.

“The upheaval caused by the pandemic coupled with the stresses of college life can feel overwhelming,” says Suzanne Kunis, Vice President for Behavior Health at Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey. “Let your students know that mental issues like anxiety and depression are common and are nothing to be ashamed about. Tell them that you are there for them and ensure they know where to go for additional help should they need it.”

Talk about safe sex, healthy relationships and sexually transmitted diseases (STI) While discussions about navigating safe, consensual encounters and relationships may feel uncomfortable, they are important, especially at this stage of life. Note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 50 percent of all annually diagnosed STIs occur in those ages 15 to 24. This article from Collegiate Parent provides resources to help with these conversations.

Learn about campus health resources beforehand Make sure your student knows the physical location of the student health center and all online resources and services, including where to go for after-hours or emergency care. Reviewing this information before they leave can help you and your student feel more comfortable once the inevitable fever or other health issue arises.

College is a time of transition for parents and kids alike. This is one article in a series that speaks to helping your student make the most of their health during this important time.