Back to School Mental Health Guide for 2023
Going back to school can be challenging for families with children of all ages. At Charlie Health, we’re here to help parents and families navigate the back-to-school challenges ahead of them.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
Updated: August 2, 2023
Heading back to school can be challenging for families with children of all ages. New daily schedules, the challenge of a fresh year of academics, and re-entering a complicated social environment all place a lot of pressure on both teens and parents. Finding ways to provide mental health support helps students navigate the challenges of a new school year without feeling overwhelmed or isolated. Follow these back-to-school mental health tips to create a positive environment as your teen returns to the classroom this fall.
Back to school mental health guide
Although the back-to-school transition can be challenging, there are many resources available to parents, teens, and young adults to help them navigate this change. These tips are designed to help you prepare for the new school year, but they can also be used year-round.
Acknowledging the upcoming changes is a basic but often overlooked step in entering a new school year. Teens and young adults heading back to the classroom may feel a wide range of emotions, including nervousness, excitement, and anxiety. Validate all these feelings and clarify that it is ok to experience different feelings in the days leading up to their first day at school.
A crucial way to support your child as they head back-to-school is keeping in touch with their emotions even after the school year kicks off. “When we keep lines of communication open about what we’re struggling with, it helps people feel safer sharing more vulnerable thoughts and emotions,” says Charlie Health’s Chief Clinical Officer and Co-founder, Dr. Caroline Fenkel, LCSW.
Dr. Fenkel encourages friends, teachers, coaches, parents, and other support figures such as guidance counselors to constantly remind kids and teens that it’s okay to feel “big” emotions. “There are so many coping skills we can still lean into,” she says.
Even as parents and caregivers are encouraged to validate, support, and honestly communicate with the kids, teens, and young adults in their life, Dr. Fenkel emphasizes how important it is that these same adults have their own support networks.
Asking for help is always a sign of bravery, never of weakness. And being prepared and proactive in taking care of your own mental health as an adult is a healthy way to contribute to a more supportive family ecosystem, she explains. It also sends a strong message to your kids about the importance of building their own support networks in their lives.
Have a joint conversation about expectations during the new school year. Does the teen need to be home by a certain time? When should homework be completed? Who is responsible for chores or lunch? Instead of setting hard-fast rules, involve your teen in the discussion from start to finish. That way, you’ll both feel respected and heard without making any false assumptions.
Practice the new routine
Map out the new schedule in advance and practice it with your teen, whether you’re dropping them off or they’re driving to school on their own. Also, begin to adjust sleep schedules at least one week before school starts. Finally, build in rest time during the first few weeks and understand that your teen or young adult will likely be exhausted while acclimating to the new school year. Plan for low-stimuli activities together to connect authentically as part of your back-to-school guide.
Back to school tips for teens
There are certainly even more challenges for teens facing common mental health conditions during back-to-school season., especially if they suffer from conditions like stress, anxiety, depression, or ADHD. “Parents and caregivers should recognize that changes in mental health are relatively normal under these circumstances, and with that, they should encourage their kids to connect with as many people as possible who bring a sense of positivity into their lives,” advises Dr. Fenkel.
Here are some helpful practices to process stress, depression, and other symptoms of mental health issues.
- Go for a walk
- Perform a mindfulness meditation
- Practice 4-7-8 breaths to ease anxiety. “The 4-7-8 breath is an awesome tool that you can do as a family or friend group, even,” Dr. Fenkel explains. “You breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, then exhale for eight. It calms the nervous system and helps people ground in the present.”
Back to school tips for young adults
Young adults need just as much support when heading back to college in the fall. Although you’re constantly surrounded by people in college, it’s important to find real connections amidst the crowds. These back-to-school mental health tips are designed to keep you safe while supporting a fulfilling social life.
Safer substance use
Share struggles with teammates, set academic expectations with professors, seek help if falling behind, manage social media exposure.
Utilize the supportive community of a sorority or fraternity, address challenges through self-care, prioritize academics, and seek on-campus help.
Avoid unhealthy drug and alcohol habits, cope with stress positively, access on-campus support if substance use becomes concerning.
Tips for college athletes
Open up with teammates and friends about any struggles you’re feeling. Also, establish clear academic expectations with professors, especially if you need to miss classes for practice or travel. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to stay caught up — your teachers want you to succeed. Finally, limit your social media intake to avoid trolls, overly zealous fans, or opponents. Block accounts that make you feel uncomfortable, and consider switching your accounts to private so you’re truly only connecting with people who care about you.
Tips for college students in Greek life
Joining a sorority or fraternity comes with many benefits, including a built-in community of support that can reduce loneliness, anxiety, and even depression. But there are also a lot of challenges that come with Greek life, such as anxiety, substance use, and even financial issues because of dues and fees. Learn to mitigate these obstacles by maintaining a self-care routine, prioritizing your academics, and seeking on-campus support when you need to talk to someone outside of Greek life.
Tips for safer substance use
Drug and alcohol abuse are all too common on college campuses. Whether it’s used as a coping mechanism with the stress of academia or simply because it’s available, college students should strive to cope with any negative emotions more positively. Most colleges have on-campus support through counseling and health coaching services if you feel like you are using substances in an unhealthy way.
Back to school support at Charlie Health
As rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation continue to increase in young people across the country, it can make a life-changing difference when families are prepared with this information. “If you think a teen or young adult in your life is struggling with their mental health, it’s never too soon to open up that dialogue,” Dr. Fenkel says. “There’s never an age that’s too young or old to have these conversations. Because if someone really does need more tailored, clinical support, we’re here.”
If you are looking for more than once-weekly therapy that can fit into your back to school schedule, Charlie Health may be able to help. Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers individual and family therapy plus group sessions that can be conveniently scheduled around your back to school obligations—like classes. At Charlie Health, we offer quick and seamless evaluations for patients interested in more than once-weekly therapy. “An assessment isn’t a sentence. It’s sixty minutes of talking out what’s been on your mind or bothering you with a professional. No judgment, no expectations. Our passion and commitment is to help as many people with their mental health and well-being as possible. Our job is to deliver hope and healing,” says Dr. Fenkel.