Start of school year signals stress in students

August 25, 2015 | Features, UTMC
By Brandi Barhite

Back to school can mean back to stress for some students, according to a psychiatrist at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

The school year — as opposed to summer vacation — is ripe for stress and anxiety, said Dr. Theodor Rais, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division at UTMC.

Parents need to try to continually communicate with their students, even those in college, if they want to stay on top of mental health issues that might arise during the school year, Rais said.



Students in high school are more likely to be bullied or worried about getting good grades, he said, while college students, especially first-year students, are adjusting to a new environment and being away from home for the first time.

Rais, who said his office sees an uptick in patients September through May, recommends giving your student advance notice before a visit to check in, that way you aren’t surprising him or her. Incorporating food into the conversation is also a tactic that works with many young people. It’s hard to turn down a free meal, he said.

Listening to students is most important. Just let them talk, Rais said. Too often parents try to inject their opinions before hearing what their child has to say.

Parents should be concerned if their students are suddenly getting involved in high-risk behaviors like drinking or drugs.

“You have to be in tune with your child,” Rais said. “The golden principle is that you need to talk to your child. Most of the problems happen when the channels of communication get interrupted.”

Changes in eating or sleeping patterns also should be taken seriously.

“If you see something that is wrong, do not take any chances,” Rais said. “Even if you have the least degree of suspicion, you need to take your child in for an assessment.”

College can be particularly stressful because of the “imposter syndrome,” Rais said. Students at Ivy League schools, for instance, might think that they don’t belong, feeling like they are there by luck and won’t be able to make it academically and socially, he said.

“My best advice is preserving the communication, which is made easier these days with texting, Skype and email,” Rais said. “Even though your students are striving for independence, they still need a family.”

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