For college students leaving the nest for the first time, there are a number of challenges that they will have to endure on their own. For most, that means learning to live with other people, managing their own schedules, and balancing work with school and other social activities.
It’s also a time when many students will be solely in charge of their medical appointments, prescriptions, and decisions about their diet and overall health. Unfortunately, for many students, managing their health is a challenge.
“Health is an area being neglected, yet all the available research show that healthy habits and healthy [students] can lead to better academic success. We are doing a disservice to our kids by not teaching them these essential life skills,” writes Brad Cardinal, a co-author of a health study at Oregon State University.
What can be done to help students better manage their health?
Get to Know the Resources Readily Available on Campus
First, students need to be aware of the resources that are already available to them on campus.
“Students hear 300 different things during a six-hour orientation,” Dr. Megan Moreno, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin tells NPR. “Many don’t remember or have a vague sense of what’s available, but can’t recall how to get help.”
These resources will, of course, vary from school to school. While larger state schools may have full-service facilities on their campuses, smaller schools may rely on community-based resources to provide care for their students. The advent of telehealth resources also makes it easier for students to connect with doctors and nurses at their university and beyond.
Understanding When to Seek Care
Many students also lack an understanding of when to seek medical care, what might constitute a medical emergency, and how to find a primary care physician. While infections should be treated right away, for example, ailments like a sprained ankle can typically wait a few days to be treated.
If they do seek treatment, it’s important that they have at minimum a basic understanding of how to handle their insurance, determine what is covered by their insurance carrier, and how to seek help in an emergency situation.
Take Charge of Their Health Through Preventative Care
Regular checkups, immunizations and screenings are an important part of staying healthy. But many students may be less inclined to regularly check in with their doctor if they’re feeling healthy. This is why promoting preventive healthcare treatment is so important.
“New evidence from a variety of surveys indicates that millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 34, differ from other generations in how they visit doctors and obtain medical care,” writes Matt Wotus, a healthcare reporter at Generation Progress. “The overall trend shows that Millennials are more likely skip doctor’s visits in favor of other priorities, in doing so using sources such as Google and WebMD before calling a primary care physician (PCP). Such behaviors have the possibility of endangering Millennials’ health and increasing the cost of health care down the road.”
Students ought to be encouraged to take charge of their health in order to live long, healthy lives.
Understanding Their Chronic Conditions
For students with chronic conditions that are managed by long-term medications, it’s even more important that they head to college fully informed on how their healthcare is managed. Specifically, they need to understand how to get medication refills, seek specialty care, or schedule further appointments.
Equally important is the need for students to be fully educated on why they are taking particular medications.
“Often, no one will have discussed indications and side effects, especially if a medication was started young. The early education went to parents, not the kids,” Dr. Laura Richardson, chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington tells NPR.
This advice goes twofold for students who may have conditions such as diabetes or asthma, who will likely have to juggle going to different doctors to have all of their needs met.
Prioritizing and Maintaining Mental Health
According to recent studies, colleges across the country are failing to keep up with a spike in demand for mental health services, leaving many students without the resources necessary to properly manage their mental health.
This is not only troubling for students who have preexisting mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, but also for the estimated 10 to 20 percent of U.S. college students that have an undiagnosed condition.
Should this be an issue on campus, students need to understand not only how to manage their mental health, but also how to go about finding an off campus provider, while also understanding the impact of alcohol, drugs, and lack of sleep on their overall mental well-being.
Overall health is one of the most important factors to student success in college and ought to be prioritized as students begin to head off to college. In doing so, students will not only be setting themselves up for a healthy future but will be putting themselves in the best place for their education.
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on Twitter @sadwhitegrrl