We met with Kognito’s Co-Founder and Director of Research, Dr. Glenn Albright, last week to discuss some topics on his mind . . .
What’s currently a hot topic for you in the field of school mental health?
Because I’m a college professor, spending much of my time around freshman, I’m thinking a lot about the transition they make from high school to college and how that transition is often very challenging for some. It’s a passionate subject for me and I’d like to somehow make that transition easier for them. For many young people, it’s the first time they’re away from home, pulled from the current emotional support system they’ve been used to, whether that support came from friends, home or school. They experience a whole new world in college, new people, new environments, new responsibilities.
The stress of this transition can be many-fold. In addition to the normal stress most experience, some are bringing already-existing problems: depression, anxiety, eating disorders. They are entering college already struggling; into another environment which creates new stressors, and can exacerbate those that already exist. And due to the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health issues, many students suffer in isolation. We see studies that show up to 40% of college students report symptoms of depression that are serious enough that it interferes with their academic and social functioning. That’s a profound statistic!
How can we prepare them better to make this transition?
What if we could prepare them before they leave high school or empower parents to take some of the lead to support them better? Often parents don’t have a full understanding of what emotional hurdles their children will face in both leaving one environment and entering a completely new one. We buy clothes and other things for their new adventure but we , and we also need to prepare them emotionally. This means that we have to educate parents which includes addressing their own stereotypes and stigma.
There has to be a degree of psycho-education, not only for those with already-existing conditions, but for every student making this transition. This involves helping them understand and communicate some basic things:
- What is stress?
- How does it manifest physically and mentally?
- When is it normal and when does it become more serious, like in the case of depression?
- It’s normal to feel stress on campus; it’s part of everyday life.
- Many students feel it.
- How can we reduce stress and get support when we need it?
- What are students’ beliefs around mental health and seeking support if they should need it?
- Just because a student might need or want mental health support does not mean he/she is incapable, inadequate, etc. In fact, it’s a sign of strength and courage.
I’d love to see, and of course Kognito is always working towards this, a culture shift in which college-age students, parents, high school personnel, and indeed everyone becomes more aware of the stressors surrounding this transition for our young people, and it becomes a normal part of life to talk about them and address them at every step of the way.