College is an exciting time for students. Yet, as their world opens up to new adventure and possibility, many health risks surround them. From illnesses to unhealthy lifestyle habits, learn about the biggest health concerns facing your college student and what you can do to help.
Anxiety and depression
Mental health takes a toll in college, increasing the risk for anxiety and depression. With the pressure of exams, grades, and financial aid requirements, your student has a lot on their plate. Your teen is also on their own for the first time and learning how to fit into a whole new environment.
What you can do: If your teen is experiencing anxiety or depression, have them seek help from their campus’s student health services. Therapy and other services are often included in their tuition and fees. Meditation classes and yoga can also help alleviate stress.
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, which is protective tissue surrounding the spinal cord and brain. It’s one of the most common serious illnesses among college students. The bacterial form is of particular concern because of its quick onset. It can also lead to serious complications, such as brain damage and physical disability.
College students are at a higher risk of meningitis because they share close quarters with others. Infectious diseases like meningitis can spread rapidly in dorms, apartments, dining halls, and classrooms.
What you can do: The best way to protect your student from meningitis is to make sure they’re vaccinated. Bacterial meningitis vaccines are usually first administered around the age of 11 or 12, but young adults as old as 23 may still get them. Booster shots may also be taken throughout adulthood if your doctor thinks your child is at risk.
Since most college activities deal with groups of people in close settings, a variety of other diseases can spread easily too.
These include (but aren’t limited to):
- the flu
- antibiotic-resistant staph infections
- the common cold
What you can do: Besides meningitis vaccinations, make sure your college student is up to date with other vaccines. This includes an annual flu shot. Also, teach your teen good hygiene techniques, like regular hand washing, and encourage them to carry hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) pose risks for college students, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to half of all STIs diagnosed each year occur in people ages 15 to 24. Some STIs can clear up with medications. Others, like HIV, HPV (human papilloma virus), and HSV (herpes simplex virus) can have lasting effects.
What you can do: Make sure you talk to your teen about safe sex before they head off to college. Encourage both the young women and young men in your life to get vaccinated against HPV to prevent cancer of the genitals, cervix, and throat, along with genital warts.
While oral contraceptives and other birth control methods help to prevent pregnancy, only barrier methods like condoms and dental dams can protect against STIs. If your teen is sexually active, they should be tested for STIs annually.
Poor sleeping, exercise, and eating habits
College offers years of studying and bonding with others. With all this, your teen will likely experience lack of sleep and a poor diet. They also might not put aside enough time for a proper workout. While sleeping for four hours a night and eating ramen noodles may seem like part of the college experience, such habits can have long-term effects on your child’s health and ability to get through school.
What you can do: Encourage your teen to manage their time well. They should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night and engage in physical activity for at least two-and-a-half hours weekly. You can also help them learn how to eat healthy on a budget.