Advice for parents, guardians and friends of university students.

Advice for parents, guardians and friends of university students.

Are you concerned about a student at university, who you think may be struggling? Perhaps you’ve noticed a drop in motivation, or a change in their behaviour, difficulties in sleeping or in engaging with their studies. It can be hard to know what to say or how to help, especially if you are a parent or guardian some distance away and worried about a young person during their first time living away from home.

Transition and change can be challenging.

Moving to University and engaging with degree level studies can be hard for many different reasons. Transition and change are challenging for all of us, and it is normal to struggle with unexpected feelings and reactions when going through a time of change. Students can experience anxiety or homesickness, doubts about their abilities or motivation, and the loss of their usual friendship group and support network. Making friends and adjusting to a new place may not be easy.

Parents and guardians may struggle with the change in family life too, with a young adult moving away to university. Although this is a normal phase in family life, it can be hard to adjust to the loss of being a parent to a younger child, as the relationship changes and develops. Added to this, worries about a young person who is not doing so well can be difficult to manage at a distance.

How you can help

Firstly, it might be helpful and reassuring to let the person know that you are concerned about them, reminding them that you have them in mind and that you care. In time, this might allow a space for you to offer them a different perspective on a situation.

  • Talk to them about how change is unsettling, and this is normal, especially when so much around them is new to them.
  • Let them know you are there, if they would like to talk, about how they are feeling generally or about anything that has happened. Let them know that you understand they may find it easier to talk about some things to someone else, and you would like to help them do this.
  • Encourage them to express their worries in whichever way they find easiest, perhaps by writing them down or talking to you or a friend, so that they can better describe to themselves what they’re finding hard. They might find these things can then be approached step-by step, or can be prioritized, which may help them feel less overwhelmed.
  • Ask them to think about how they have managed other challenges before, or what they would say to a friend in their situation who is struggling.
  • Encourage them to spend time with others, in whichever way they enjoy most, as this can make a big difference to how we feel. You might help them find out about clubs or other student activities.
  • Help them find out about student union and student support services, which can provide a safe space for mental health and emotional support, for general advice and help with many aspects of student life, and for help linking up with local services if needed. You might ask if they would like you to talk to their academic tutor or help them to do so.
  • Outside of University support, you might suggest that they check out online support for young people such as Young Minds and The Mix – Essential support for under 25s. It could also be helpful to encourage them to register with a local GP or medical practice, so that they can access further support if needed.


What to do if you are seriously concerned about a young person’s mental health

If you are very concerned, for whatever reason, about a young person at University.

  • Suggest that they tell others how they are feeling. Encourage them to seek support with both the University and with a local GP. You could help them to find contact information for student support or local NHS services.
  • Share with them the contact details for NHS mental health crisis support services in their area, so that they have these just in case, should they ever need them.
  • If the person lives on campus, find out the contact details for the University security team, and contact them if you believe the person is in serious difficulty or at risk of harm.

At any time, if you are concerned about the person being at imminent risk of life-threatening harm, call emergency services on 999.

Looking after your own wellbeing

It can be hard to remember to look after ourselves, when we are concerned about someone else. Try to be kind to yourself and remember that this time of change may well be difficult for you and your wider family too. Try to make sure you’re not alone in supporting your young person, without support yourself, and remember that specialist and professional help is available if needed.

Organisations such as The Charlie Waller Trust offer support and advice to parents of young people struggling with their mental health.

At The Retreat Clinics, we can offer therapeutic support to students, parents, and families, and have a wide range of specialist therapies available. Our team of therapists and psychiatrists are here to help and can be accessed from our welcoming clinics in Manchester or York, or online. If you would like to book an appointment with one of our therapists Click Here