Establish Your College Mental Health Resource Team
By Kelly Burch
If you feel comfortable with your current providers, you might want to continue to see them during college. This can provide consistency of care during a time when you’re experiencing a lot of changes. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to see the same providers, especially if you move for school. Whether you’re remaining with the same care team or building a new one, the goal is to develop a thoughtful, practical, individualized, and safe care plan as you transition into adulthood. Here’s how to do that.
Should You Continue with Your Doctors?
The first decision to make is who will be on your mental health treatment team. Consider these questions:
- Does your current team treat young adults? If you’re currently with a pediatric practice, they may stop seeing patients at age 18 or 21. In that case, ask them for referrals for adult care.
- How far away is your college or new living situation? Logistically, will you be able to travel to in-person appointments if that’s your preferred way of meeting? Is your counselor licensed in the state you’ll be living in for school? Is telehealth with your providers from home an option?
- How is your mental health? If you feel that your symptoms are well controlled, you’re more likely to be able to cope with the challenges of changing providers, or to manage with occasional check-ins with your home provider. If you’re still working on finding medications that work for you, it might be better to have a provider near your school to help you with that transition.
- How prepared are you to manage your health? College can be an opportunity for change and for you to take more control over your treatment. If you feel confident you can make changes now, but if you’d like more practice managing your health with your current providers, sticking with them is a great choice.
Talk with your providers at home about what they think is best. They usually have lots of experience helping students make these decisions.
How to Connect with Mental Health Care on Campus
Connecting with new providers can feel a bit strange if you’ve never done it before. But the on-campus mental health team is used to seeing new students and helping them manage this transition. Here’s how to get started connecting with mental health support on campus:
- Contact the campus mental health services. Ask them what services they can provide, including counseling and medication management, and whether they have experience treating your condition. In most cases, campus health centers have everything students need. If they don’t, they’re a great resource for connecting with local providers who can help you.
- Ask your current team for guidance. Hopefully, the mental health providers you’ve been working with know you really well. So, they can be a great resource for connecting with other providers you can trust either at school or in the local community.
- Explore community mental health programs. The city or town that your college is located in might have a community mental health resource center that can either provide care or connect you with local doctors or therapists. Keep in mind that this varies widely; larger cities often have more resources than smaller towns. Your college will likely be able to help you with finding what you’re looking for in the community.
Getting Started with On-Campus Care
College mental health professionals and the disabilities support staff are experts in helping students connect with care. They’ll help guide you through everything you need to do, including:
- The disabilities support service will help you initiate the process for receiving disability accommodations (if appropriate). Contact them before you get to campus, or visit them as soon as possible after you arrive on campus, such as during orientation.
- College mental health professionals can sign releases of information for new providers to speak with former providers or, in the case of shared treatment, for all providers to communicate.
- They’ll help you decide whether you want to sign a release for your providers to contact your parents/guardians/providers if you’re having difficulties or need their input about treatment decisions. A parent or caregiver can call your providers to provide information or their concerns at any time, but unless you sign a release, your care team can’t share any information with them. If it’s safe to involve a parent or caregiver, they can be an important part of your care team. The goal is to create open and transparent communication among the people who care for and support you. Learn more about this decision.
- College mental health professionals will agree upon a medication refill policy if you’re working with multiple providers. This means that your providers at home and at school know who’s writing your prescriptions and refills for prescriptions. It’s beneficial to provide authorization (consent) for your prescribers to talk with each other about your medications.
Want to continue planning? Check out the rest of our resources for navigating the transition to college.
See more ways to prepare for mental health challenges on campus.