From Time By Maya Rhodan: Dana hadn’t had any prior experiences with mental illness when her son Oliver went back to school at Kenyon College, but just three weeks into his winter semester he suffered from a mental break.
The signs were there. As a student athlete, Oliver was still participating in the school’s track program, but after he’d retreat to his room instead of heading off to class. He wasn’t hanging out with friends and stopped answering calls from his mom. And soon after, he recalled in a conversation with TIME, he started to hear voices. “I started forming these out-there ideas,” says Oliver, who asked not to include his last name. “I starting thinking a neighbor in my dorm was trying to kill me.”
Because Oliver was 18, his mother wasn’t immediately notified about the change in his behavior. His friends and dorm mates were also ill-informed about the warning signs of a pending mental health crisis, so Oliver says there was no formal intervention until he got into an argument with members of the school’s lacrosse team. After that incident, he was admitted to a hospital and later transferred to its psychiatric ward. And it was then, despite trying to reach out to Oliver on a number of occasions and calling his track coach, that his mother became aware of his problem. “I didn’t receive any information until the hospital called me,” she says.
What happened to Oliver and Dana is not at all uncommon. Though mental illness may not be at the forefront of parents’ and students’ minds when they go off to college, young adulthood is a critical period for mental health. Seventy five percent of mental illnesses are onset by age 24 and 43.8 million adults, about one in five, experienced a mental illness in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And yet the experiences students and parents have in dealing with mental illness can vary greatly from campus to campus, making it important for people to gain knowledge about what to expect, and what to look out for, imperative.
Marjorie Baldwin’s son David was diagnosed with schizophrenia while he was in college, but when he first started exhibiting symptoms, she thought he was experimenting with drugs. But because the school he attended was two hours away from their home, David’s friends were the ones who stepped in during a psychotic episode and decided to call the police. “I think one thing that university students in general should is know the signs because for schizophrenia, at least, that’s the time when it develops,” Baldwin told TIME. “It’s their friends who may notice the symptoms and are able to step in.”
On Wednesday, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in partnership with the Jed Foundation, released a guidebook for students and parents that outlines warning signs for mental illness, resources available to students, and information parents need to know about getting access to their children’s health information. Their goal is to spark conversations between students and families around mental health issues, while also equipping folks with the tools they need to intervene or seek help if necessary.