If your child is heading off to college and taking their mental health struggles with them, this episode is for you.
Kyle, who just finished his freshman year at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and his mom, Anne, talk with our hosts, Amy O. (aka, the mom) and Dr. Lisa (aka, the psychologist) about their strategies for success and lessons learned from bumps in the road.
You’ll hear Kyle talk bravely about his mental health journey, the resources that support him on campus, and the low point that prompted him to ask for help. Anne shares how she got through this first year despite all her worries and explains the framework that let her know how Kyle was doing day to day.
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.
SHOW NOTES LINKS:
Choices Fair 2022
CATCH Spring 2022 Lunch and Learn: Creating a Game Plan for Your College Freshman with Mental Health Struggles with Bonnie Lane
music credit 3 Water Springs by Ian Post
© CATCH 2022
To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
Amy O. (00:05):
Saying goodbye and sending your freshman off to college is tough no matter how you slice it. There are so many strong emotions around the end of things familiar and family life As we've known it,
I was excited, nervous, scared. I was feeling a whole bunch of emotions, but what I wanted to do was I wanted to get off to college. I wanted to get going. I wanted to get started on that experience.
Amy O. (00:30):
and excitement about the beginning of things and discoveries on the horizon. When your child battles mental health issues, though, letting go can be even more difficult. And frankly, terrifying. Each family approaches this transition differently. Today, we will hear one family's story. Welcome. I'm Amy Oberholtzer.
Dr. Lisa (00:51):
And I'm Dr. Lisa Novak. Together, we are the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation. It's hard to parent a kid struggling with their mental health, and it can be really lonely. Here we lay it all out together and discuss the topics that concern us on our parenting journeys.
Amy O. (01:09):
Today, we are speaking with Kyle, a rising sophomore at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and his mom Anne, who's the mother of three and happens to be a CATCH board member.
Dr. Lisa (01:21):
Kyle and Anne are here today to reflect with us on Kyle's freshman year and use the gift of hindsight to compare expectations with reality. We're so grateful to Kyle for his willingness to talk openly to us about navigating college, alongside his mental health journey.
Amy O. (01:38):
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation with Kyle and Anne.
Dr. Lisa (01:46):
Thank you guys again so much for joining us today. We're excited to have you here.
Excited to be here.
Dr. Lisa (01:51):
Kyle congrats. You made it through freshman year, one down.
Yes I did.
Amy O. (01:55):
Dr. Lisa (01:56):
to go. <laugh>
Dr. Lisa (01:58):
What are you studying at Cornell?
So I'm currently, uh, it feels fitting I'm undeclared. I'm not quite sure what I'm going into. So just kind of going through it year by year.
Dr. Lisa (02:08):
You and so many others.
Oh, I'm sure.
Amy O. (02:10):
The beauty of a liberal arts college, right?
Dr. Lisa (02:14):
Yeah. Any thoughts about what it is you want to pursue? Any courses that have excited you so far?
First, I feel like I should explain a little bit, what's different about Cornell College. We do a block plan, so we do one class at a time. Basically you're doing one weeks of coursework in one day, but it's only through one class, so it's a lot <laugh> um,
Dr. Lisa (02:37):
Yeah, but I, mean, part of the reason I went there was because it's easier for me to stay single tracked focused on one thing at a time. Speaking of courses that really caught my eye, there was sociology and then there was, uh, creative writing. So while I'm currently undeclared, I've been in talks with a few of those in the English department, maybe considering something down that path.
Dr. Lisa (02:58):
Feels like a, a lot of coursework to do. <laugh> a short amount of time.
Yeah. It's certainly not perfect.
Amy O. (03:04):
Do you like that choice for you though Kyle was a good one or is it hard to tell?
Truthfully, because I haven't experienced the college experience of a, a different type. All I have is comparison of high school, what I'm doing multiple classes at a time. However, I think for me, the block system worked really well. It took a little bit of time to get used to, but then again, everyone on the campus is dealing with the same thing, that same kind of workload. And I found it to be really helpful for me because it allows me to focus on one subject matter at a time. And then once I'm done with that, I'm done with my work for that day.
Dr. Lisa (03:40):
Makes a lot of sense. I also imagine if there were any times over the course of this year that were more difficult, that then you're struggling while dealing with one class <laugh> instead of struggling while dealing with five and five professors, you have to talk to and five different things you need to navigate. I don't know if that was your experience.
Yeah. So while it does help with having that only one professor, you have to write that email to, or have that meeting with the issue was, uh, obviously when you're doing a weeks worth of course, stuff at a time, um, if you miss one day mental health related or otherwise, then you're missing a week of coursework and then it's a lot more to catch up on.
Dr. Lisa (04:21):
Anne when you heard about the block system, how did you feel about Kyle making that choice?
I actually had heard about Cornell. I think when Kyle was in middle school, the librarian at our elementary school son was going to Cornell and something about that system just really struck me and I kind of filed it in the back of my head as that might be a really good fit for how Kyle thinks and processes information, and, and just the, the way he kind of views the world. And so when he started his college search and, I, I brought up Cornell and as soon as he really started attending at that point in the middle of COVID started attending their webinars, he literally would start leaning in and become really engrossed in what they were saying,, how the campus was structured, how the coursework was structured. And I could just really tell it seemed to be a really good fit for that idea.
Being focused on a single course of study at a time, you have to do it for 18 days. And so therefore if it's a subject that you love, you do it for 18 days, and maybe you find another subject, similar subject that you love. If it's a subject that may not be in your wheelhouse, you only have to do it for 18 days and then you can move on to the next thing. Uh, and I felt that that was probably a really good balance for the, the way that he tends to manage his workload. And it turned out to be a good fit for him.
Amy O. (05:54):
Can we, can we back up a bit here and take Kyle back to when he was in high school and maybe before, one of the reasons we invited you onto the podcast today is because I know you left for college with some challenges that maybe all kids don't. Are you comfortable talking to us a little bit about your mental health journey before you left for school, Kyle?
Yeah, of course. So going back, I think it started in middle school. My mentality when going through school up until that seventh grade was I was able to excel in subjects and do things without putting too much effort forward. And so I put a lot of stock in my academic ability without putting much actual effort forward. And then in seventh grade I started realizing, oh, I have to study for these things if I have to do well. And yeah, I know. Um, and then all of a sudden this kind of perfectionistic persona that I had put together while not doing any of the actual studying or working started to kind of crumple. And then that led to, um, me dealing with the some depressive episodes and then lots of social anxiety and about halfway, I believe through seventh grade, I ended up, uh, having more and more difficulty attending classes, uh, getting into classes because my anxiety would spike so much that it would be extremely difficult for me to even get in the building.
And then this just kind of spiraled, of course, started talking with therapists, started pursuing medication, but I ended up spending time in a PHP program to kind of help right myself. And then that wouldn't be the last time I was in a PHP program for similar issues of those things. It's not a linear improvement thing. I've have issues with anxiety still. And I have issues with depressive episodes still, but with every new issue that came up, things were adjusted, whether it be treatment plans, whether it be medication, uh, whether it be ways just that, um, I can voice how I'm doing emotionally or how either my family or friends can help me. All of which have been great along the process. Yeah. So going into college, um, I had experienced a lot of social anxiety, a lot of major depressive episodes, but I finished up, although it was pandemic time. So that was all weird that I graduated during the pandemic.
Amy O. (08:17):
That's an understatement weird.
<laugh> Yeah, it was, it was at first it was a relief to, to be like, okay, I can just kind of cash in these classes. I can be like, oh, I've had a lot of difficulty with anxiety and getting into the classes. What if I'm just on a Zoom call and that's how I get my classes done. Um, and so at first it was a relief and then you start to kind of miss that in person a little bit. I, I think that's not the same for everyone, but I started to feel that way. So going off to college, I was excited, nervous, scared. I was feeling a whole bunch of emotions, but what I wanted, what I wanted to do was I wanted to get off to college. I wanted to get going. I wanted to get started on that experience.
Dr. Lisa (08:56):
Can I pause you there for, for one second? I'm I'm thank you for sharing all of that. It's I mean, it's just so helpful to hear your story and I'm sure it's one that resonates with so many. I'm curious how that mental health journey, especially as you were in the latter part of high school affected your thoughts about college. Did, was there a pause about, am I ready to go to college or is this the type of college that I go to? Should that, uh, decision be impacted by resources that are available or anything like that?
Honestly, going through middle school and going through the earlier stages of high school, when I was in those depressive episodes, when it was tough to just get into the school building, I wasn't thinking about college. I wasn't concerned about college in the future or what comes after high school, because I, I mean, I had difficulty with suicidal ideation things, and quite honestly, the, the thought of the time was, I don't think I'll make it to that point. And so that's obviously a difficult thing to plan for your future when you feel as if you're stuck in the present and each day is difficult. So coming out of the other end of that, and while I still have struggles that it hasn't been that bad in a while, it was like, oh, I'm a, what junior in high school now when most people were planning their time, figuring out what colleges or stuff I was focusing on, okay, I'm gonna get in the school building, I'm gonna pass my classes and I'm gonna go home and dealing with that step by step. Truthfully, when it came to deciding colleges, I was just looking for something I'm like, okay, that clicks, that works.
This is a fit that'll function for me. So when I heard about the block system at Cornell, I'm like, oh, that'll be great. I can focus on one thing at a time. I don't have to get burdened down by switching between classes and things like that. And then of course it was a smaller campus, which really appealed to me. And then I liked the distance. It's about three hours away, three and a half from my home, from my parents. And so it was like, okay, I get to adventure out past the, the little pond I grew up in. But if I need to come back, it's not that difficult. If I need a break, if I need to reach out for assistance, it doesn't feel Herculean.
Amy O. (11:12):
Am I allowed to be proud of you? Even though I don't know you that well.
I'm sure. <laugh>
Amy O. (11:18):
Anne I want to ask you when you listen to Kyle, talk about that journey, which I know was not easy.
I had a front row seat to it.
Amy O. (11:26):
Yeah. I've been there.
Amy O. (11:30):
How do you feel when you hear him share like that as honestly, and bravely as he just did.
He has worked so hard to try to be healthy. And even in those really dark moments, and there were a lot of really dark moments. He never gave up. The emotional intelligence that he has, the way he can articulate how he's feeling as an almost 20 year old now just blows me away. Yeah. I told him from the get go that this was just simply his growing up journey. Each of ours is unique and this is his, and I firmly, firmly believe that there was a reason for him to be on this journey for him and for me. And it would reveal itself as we both walked through the journey.
Dr. Lisa (12:19):
I hear bravery on both of your parts. I, I hear it so clearly in Kyle, but, Anne I, I hear it in your journey too, um, to, to send a child off to college, still struggling in some ways with some of the things that, that he is describing, what was that experience like for you,
Kyle and I have definitely been in this battle together. It's his battle and it took me a lot of therapy on my own <laugh> and a lot of supporting of his therapeutic approaches to understand the role that I needed to play, uh, and a lot of making mistakes, uh, and then trying to do it the right way and then making another mistake and trying to do it the right way. And so I knew when he left for college, that we had to approach this with him, learning to adult, he had to make as many mistakes as possible, and it was my job to be the soft place for him to land. It was not my job to rescue him. It was not my job to solve the problem., It had to be my job to be here for him to reach out to when he needed the help. I had to create that environment. He was no longer in the bedroom on the other side of the wall, where I had to try to make sure he got into the building every day. I had spent years doing that if I don't want him living in my basement when he's 30 <laugh>, I had to make sure that at this moment he had to have the opportunity to learn to adult. And that scared me to death.
Amy O. (14:03):
So if it was anything, like when I said goodbye to my daughter, who's now sophomore in college. And who also has mental health struggles, you walked the length of your home approximately 500,000 times a day until today, until you could do it less than that and be comfortable knowing that he was okay,
It's hard. And, and I.
Amy O. (14:29):
It's really hard.
Yeah, mm-hmm <affirmative>. And I think the grace that I believe Kyle and I have is that we have the language, we have the ability to talk, and he knows that he is in control as long as he is communicating. And he wants to be in control. When we dropped him off at Cornell, I made it very clear that as long as he continued to communicate with me, he got to stay in control.
Amy O. (14:56):
So, Kyle, what does that look like for you? Like how often were you talking to your mom? Did you feel as though it was a, the right amount for you? Did it work well?
Uh, I feel like I was talking at length, whether it be on FaceTime or a phone call at least once a week, but there were much like shorter check-ins like a day wouldn't really go by without a text, either to my younger brother or sister or someone in the family or "the fam" group chat. There was a communication happening pretty regularly. Now the depth of that communication and the honesty of that communication every now and then would waiver depending on how I perceived, I had to be doing to keep that control. So, uh, the first two blocks, I'm like, okay, this is going great. And it was going great. I was making great friends. I was getting to class every day. I was doing well. And when that anxiety, when the, when that, uh, some of that depression started to creep up again, I wasn't the most forthright with it, because I wanted to keep up this perspective that yeah, I'm doing great.
And then once we got into the winter months, that's when the communication started to open up again, uh, because I'm like, okay, need some help, struggling quite a bit here and then reaching out. And then I think that was one of our big learning points through the winter was despite the fact that my parents, my mom is three and a half hours away. I can still reach out to her and she can still be there to help me. And there's nothing wrong with being in a bad place, as long as you're still communicating, even if you're three hours away. I think the, the fear was that, oh, I'mgoing to lose all my freedom. I'm going to lose all my control. I don't know how I'm going to keep up with this college if I'm admitting that I'm having emotional struggles, if things are going wrong. But I had to realize that things are allowed to go wrong. Things are allowed to struggle and I'm allowed to then reach out and use those support networks back at home or on campus.
Amy O. (17:03):
I think some of our audience would be really interested to know Kyle, if there were student services at Cornell on which you felt like you could lean other than your mom and, and whomever else in your family on whom you lean, did you, were you able to utilize the services at college and how did they respond when you were struggling?
Yeah. Before we went to, uh, Cornell, we as a family, we visited the campus a few times and set up certain accommodations with campus and setting up that support network beforehand. I later ended up talking to a, a counselor on campus, but I had my advisor and I had a few other contacts, which I could reach out to on campus. My utilization of those resources evolved as I got further along, becasue I'm like, okay, it's, it's okay to depend on this a little bit. It's okay to use, utilize this. It's there for a reason, uh,
Which means he didn't use it at the beginning. <laugh> even though the, uh, student services would send a note to the professor at the beginning of the block saying Kyle has extended time. Kyle did do a great job at the beginning of checking with the professor to make sure that the professor had that note. But then if Kyle was having a struggle at a point, Kyle had to learn to utilize the student services, correct?
Yes, but I mean, it was a as are most things, it's a, it's a journey. I, and there were resources in going into, into this sophomore year. I've learned a lot and I know how to better utilize them. I feel like without those stumbling blocks, without those hurdles that had to be tackled, I wouldn't realize the tools I did have at my disposal. And so just to give a few examples, there's, uh, counselors you can talk to on campus, there's dedicated tutors and stuff for things with subjects. So that may not even, it may not even be something necessarily like talking through things with mental health and stuff. But if you can do better on a subject, if you can feel some of that ease, lift up a little bit, if you can understand the current thing better that in turn could help mentally.
When we were looking at, all of the colleges, we actually used the Choices catalog as one of our baselines for looking at colleges that did have, support services for Kyle's type of, mental health challenges. And the first college we actually went to look at was Whitewater because we knew that they had really strong support services. And the reason we did that.
Amy O. (19:29):
Anne can I interrupt you? Can you clarify what the choices catalog is?
Choices is, they actually also do a annual, fair for people to attend. It travels around to different high schools each year. It's usually in the fall. You can go onto their website and look, but basically they put together a catalog of all of the universities and colleges throughout the United States and what services they provide to students, whether or not it's, you know, ADHD supports, dyslexia supports, mental health supports, and the level of supports that they provide to those students, as well as any other ADA type of supports.
So you have a really good handle on how that university or college could meet your student where they're at and Whitewater, Illinois State are two good examples, just in a very local area of ours that are known for having solid supports for kids that have a similar profile to Kyle. And so we actually went to Whitewater first because I said, let's learn from the people that know how to do it. We went and it was a solid, good visit. We learned a lot of the questions to ask. It really helped us in because when we went to Cornell again, it's a very small school. There are two people in student services. Whitewater has an entire staff. But we knew the questions to ask. And Kyle chose Cornell, even though they didn't have all the bells and whistles of a, of a student services department, like some of the other programs we looked at because we knew that they could support him on that one to one relationship that he really needed. And because we had visited some of the other schools, we knew what we had to look for and we knew what we had to hold this other school, like Cornell accountable to. So it was really helpful for us in that whole process.
Dr. Lisa (21:28):
I'd love for both of you actually to now just reflect a little on last year and how it went, you know, specifically related to the mental health journey, but successes and tips. If you have any for incoming families and students, or also things that maybe didn't go as well as you had hoped,
Would you like to go first?
No, you go first, buddy.
Okay. Well then I will go first.
Amy O. (21:54):
You're not really that polite with each other. Normally are you?
We're on our best behavior.
Amy O. (22:02):
I can tell. It's
Amy O. (22:03):
You can't see it, but I've got a suit and tie on I'm quite, uh, dressed up <laugh> um, so obviously one of the big successes for me was getting through the year I got,
Dr. Lisa (22:15):
We can stop there, man. I mean that, yeah.
Amy O. (22:18):
What's my famous line. Right? Kyle, we don't get points for pretty, just for doing .
Yes, exactly. Right. Due to mental health, I ended up getting, uh, credits for six out of the eight courses that I took that year. And now going into this next year, uh, we've got a better idea of how to handle issues with completion or, or things like that. One thing that I will just strongly recommend is to any student or parent combo going through, this is no matter how deep in the hole you think you are with either missing work or things like that for a class, reach out to your professor, talk to them because more than willing, especially if you've been able to make a good impression. One of the things I made sure of was I was still trying to keep that communication with my professor. Even if I wasn't always getting all the work in, I wanted to keep my professor updated on what was going on and keeping that open amount of dialogue allows the professor to have maybe a little bit more leniency in like, okay, you are missing this percent. You're like this far off for, for completion. This is what I need you to get done. And this is how we can go about doing it. And like it, uh, my mom said it doesn't have to be pretty, uh, getting it done is sometimes what counts. And so that's what helped allow me to get through the year is sitting down with professor or staff with my parents, how to go about completion.
Dr. Lisa (23:42):
Did you find your professors were
Dr. Lisa (23:44):
Compassionate and understanding related to your mental health?
Yeah, so the majority were there, there were none who were outright like dismissive or anything like that. And that will vary from college college, from student case to student case. And then what I found was when I was communicating with professors keeping in email like on CC or, BCC with some of the, the counselors and, and staff I was with so that my interactions were being recorded with the people I had set up mental health help with previously, so that there was that little bit of accountability.
Amy O. (24:17):
So, Anne it sounds like Kyle really underscored or learned the power of communication, both with his family and with his professors and with his advisor. What got you through the year when your first born son was at college, knowing that it was not always an easy ride,
One, that he was doing it every day he was doing it. We weren't sure, as he had said earlier that he was going to be able to go to college. And so the fact that he was every day doing college was fantastic. I think too, as a parent sitting here in Illinois while he was in Iowa, out of sight, out of mind to a certain degree, because he wasn't here in my home where I had to, in my thoughts manage every single thing he was doing. I had some tips,
Amy O. (25:08):
No offense, Kyle, no offense here whatsoever.
<laugh> it's your mom, it's the mom. Right? And so, you spend so much energy when they are struggling with their mental health and they're in your house. You spend so much of your own energy trying to make sure that you are not micromanaging, trying to make sure you are setting those boundaries and enabling them to do their work. I found that once Kyle was out of the house having to do his mental health work, it was easier for me because my job was to be that of a cheerleader and of a coach. There was physically things I could not do because he physically was no longer here. And I can't stress enough in that December timeframe when Kyle had stopped communicating. And I knew that there was something going on. I know Kyle's tells I became very flooded. I think Amy, you know that about what was going on, you know, was he going to, to be able to go back after break?
You know, of course all the catastrophizing, all of the, what if'ing and I had to keep going back to, so he doesn't finish one class. It is not the end of the world. It's one class. We will regroup and he can start again. We have done the regroup and start again so many times, and he is learning so much every single time he does that. It will be okay. It is not all of life, all of college. It is one moment in time and I need to make sure he's okay because the class doesn't matter if he's not okay.
Amy O. (26:39):
Kyle, what are you looking forward to getting back to in Mount Vernon, Iowa?
<laugh> <laugh> There's corn there.
Amy O. (26:45):
Do you have like a gas station or anything?
We got a Casey's, uh <laugh> so, yes <laugh>. No, but, I've got a great friend group. I'm looking forward to continuing my next year and, and, and seeing how I can carry on the skills and stuff that I learned going into this next year and hopefully figure out a major <laugh>,.
Dr. Lisa (27:13):
Does it feel less stressful or overwhelming to either and or both of you to be going at it now for the second time,
I feel like the uncertainty is gone, which is big for me. I know what to expect when I'm getting on that campus. And I know how to deal with things that may come up and there's of course that uncertainty, when you're going off school, especially in freshman year, it's like, oh, I don't know how this is going to function. Am I going to make friends? Is the services that I tried to set up, going to actually work for me now? I kind of all figured that out. There were some bumps and there were some scuffles along the way, freshman year, but getting through it regrouping and, and seeing how to utilize the tools that were there and keep those lines of communication open. I feel the renewed confidence and the lack of uncertainty going into sophomore year.
He has a group of friends that is his other family at Cornell that both his dad and I just feel so blessed and they have been so kind to Kyle's dad and I as well. That makes me feel as if Kyle's in such a safe place, because those young people each have each other's backs. That's one piece of advice I would definitely give to the parents out there. Is if your college student enables you to have an opportunity to meet their friends and create an adultish relationship with them do because it matters.
Dr. Lisa (28:41):
I know we're out of time, but I I'd be remiss not to reflect here on the fact that Kyle, you started sharing your story by talking about seventh grade and this perfectionism persona that you had built or discovered in yourself. And I just have to tell you that I hear you talking about your college experience and the thing that, that really stands out most out of all of it is this acceptance of imperfection. Hey, I did it and it didn't matter that I didn't get every single credit and I made mistakes along the way and communication was hit or miss, but we're learning and we're growing and we're moving and it is just so cool to hear you say it like that. Thank you. Thank you both. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to share your personal stories on this forum and with our listeners. We just appreciate you. And we know that it's going to help other families that are about to say goodbye to their college freshmen, Amy and I have honestly just loved this conversation. Thanks you guys. It was a blast.
Thanks for having us. We appreciate it.
Amy O. (29:43):
Thanks for listening to another episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation
Dr. Lisa (29:48):
Stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @CATCHiscommunity or by visiting our website CATCHiscommunity.org.
Amy O. (29:58):
We are glad that you joined us to continue the conversation. It's important to talk about our mental health and reach out for help if needed.