It hurts to live in Colorado

It’s still National Suicide Prevention Month, and I decided to write about why Colorado has such a high suicide rate.  High, not because of marijuana or the elevation (though I will circle back to that in a bit), but we’re talking 2-3xs higher rate.  But we live in a such an outdoor person’s paradise.  And it gets more than 300 days of sunshine a year.  It just doesn’t add up.

I’m not doctor or scientist, but I certainly can hypothesize some of what’s going on.  Keep in mind, although Colorado has a higher than-the-national-average for teen suicide, I’m going to mostly be speaking to the Adult population.  Why?  Because most of us are not from Colorado, and I do think this plays a factor in the epidemic.

Instead of writing ad nauseum like I usually do, I’ll try to just bullet point what I think is going on:

1.   On the Front Range, we are a mile high.  Factor in heading into the mountains, or living in the mountains, and you can be anywhere from 7,800 – 12,000 ft above sea level regularly.  There’s less oxygen at that elevation.

 

2.   That matters because with less oxygen, our Dopamine can continue to do its dance (i.e. sex, drugs & rock & roll) as it will constantly be motivated and rewarded.  Meanwhile, our Serotonin is slower to release (i.e. well-being, cognition, rational thinking).  Our balance is off.  Not just a little, but actually a lot. We can go as hard as we want for as long as we want because our logical brain is not fully online.

 

3.   Factor in all the action-packed sports, Social Media, and a small town.  What do you have?  A bunch of people who know each other and are pushing each into the risk zone because we’re constantly one-upping each other. Skiing, mountain biking, free-soloing… you name it.  You post these pictures, people see you as a badass in a small mountain time.  Another name for a badass?  A Madman; someone who’s on a mission to die young.

 

4.   None of this includes substance abuse, which is rampant in the ski industry.  I can say that because I was in once!  And it doesn’t include pre-disposition to mental health, specifically mood disorders.  You are constantly doing all those dangerous badass things because your body isn’t regulating itself and you constantly want to live this dream ski instructor life.

 

5.   Then, when you’re in your late 40s or early 50s (that it’s you someone manage to never leave), you are comparing yourself to your peers who are married, have kids, and careers and even if that’s something you never wanted, you are depressed in thinking about what you missed.  You work in a town where full-time jobs don’t exist.  You live in a town where long-term relationships also don’t exist.  So you miss intimacy and you’re feeling unmoored because of never having a career.

 

6.   Factor in the fact that these small towns really don’t have the mental health support that this community needs, and you get the perfect storm for mental health in Colorado.

This is where you may hear: “it’s not okay, to not be okay.  Pick yourself up by your bootstraps.  Suicide happens, and we don’t really talk about it.”  We’re a small mountain town and even though you might think we’re progressive and bow to tourism, we’re actually hardworking rural humans just taking it day-by-day.

Now can you kind of see why Colorado has such a high suicide rate?  We do live in a beautiful place, but don’t let the beauty of this place fool you into thinking mental health is not an issue here.  It’s an issue everywhere.  

It's okay to not be okay

Be advised, this is a personal anecdote on suicide.  This may be triggering.  Read at your own risk.

With it being National Suicide Prevention Week, I wanted to reflect on how suicide has impacted me in my life.  I was thinking back on my adolescence, early childhood, and even now into the stride of my adulthood of how acquaintances and friends alike have been impacted by suicide.  We can’t point a finger towards one age group.  The angst exists everywhere.

I acknowledge that I’m lucky that Facebook, or any social media for that matter, didn’t exist when I was in high school.  If it had, I’m not sure I would have survived. Even then, some of my peers were hurting just as badly as teens nowadays.  Hurting so much that they committed suicide.  My tiny high school didn’t know how to respond.  We tip-toed around what happens and never really openly discussed it.

In college, I remember my suitemate attempting suicide and EMS rushing to our shared bathroom to quickly get her to the hospital.  I never even knew that she was struggling.  She was appeared to be having the time of her life.  We all know that even the happiest appearing individuals can be the ones the most in pain.

Right during and after my undergraduate years my dearest friend from childhood lost both her father and her boyfriend at the time to suicide. Both struggling with significant mental health issues, and she tried so hard to let them both know how much she loved them. That kind of close-to-the-heart forms who you are as an adult.

The last job I held in working with adolescents, we had a student commit suicide after the summer season.  It was crushing to the team who worked that summer, as he was a leader within his peer community.  We knew he was struggling, and we weren’t able to act fast enough.  They started a scholarship in his name to allow for other young men struggling with mental health could participate in that same programs for future years to come.  He was being honored.

I live in a state where the suicide rates for adolescents and adults are double, if not triple the national average.  People ask – why on Earth would anyone living in such a beautiful place be in such pain?  That’s an absurd question.  Anyone anywhere can be struggling.  Even in Colorado.

I think about where I live now, and the people who have been in my life for a reason or a season.  These experiences and encounters make me think about my own decisions, often.  It’s okay to not be okay.  Life is really hard sometimes.  Like, really f-ing hard.  It’s terrifying to think about facing your challenges head on to change them.  It’s terrifying to think about letting people know you are in so much pain.  We need to stop bullying each other on social media.  Or comparing ourselves to others on social media.  It’s a façade.

It’s okay to not be okay.  Just tell someone.  It will get better.  And for those who didn’t tell anyone, please know we honor you and wish you were still here.

When enrolling in college becomes more important than a young person’s health.

WARNING: This is a roast.

For a parent who has supported their high-achieving high school student, at what point do you step in and suggest they defer their admission to seek mental health services?  At what point do you acknowledge that you are enmeshed, co-dependent and can’t be objective when it comes to your young adult and their well-being?  You feel awful about the predicament you’re in, when we need to be thinking about the well-being of our soon-to-be college student.  That to me, is an indicator of what I’m working with.

College isn’t going anywhere.  If anything, the only thing your student will miss is their originally matched college roommate.  Good for them that they linked up and are already fast friends!  Your young adult will not last past one semester if you don’t prioritize their health.  The college will commend you for suggesting they take a break, even before they got started.  Why?  Because even colleges realize they don’t have the capacity to provide the support that your young adult needs.  If you take a moment to take care of yourself and your young adult before they go off to college, they’ll likely be more successful in the long run.  Any college that cares about retention and matriculation (which is all of them) will appreciate that!

You may say I’m catastrophizing your young adult’s situation.  If you ask, I’m happy to share plenty of statistics with you about how someone who admitted to substance abuse, experienced a recent sexual assault, and has pre-existing mental health will significantly struggle in a collegiate setting [without support].  This. Is. A. Fact.  This doesn’t have to do with whether they’re academically capable.  We all know they are; they were admitted for goodness sake.  They’ve proven that by taking the ACT five times, they can earn a higher score and thus make themselves more desirable to elite institutions. The fact is, it has everything to do with the notion that our emotions trump our logical brain.  If you aren’t okay with your health, you will not be able to achieve (nor focus) academically. And even in the slightest chance that your young adult muddles through their first semester, your young adult is far from thriving.

As a parent, you may be wanting me to congratulate you on the fact that your young adult was admitted into an institution that only accepts 4% of their incoming class.  If that’s what you are wanting from me, you will be waiting for a while.  Or you say to me that although you have found out that your child has been “only blacking out twice a month,” at least they’re telling you about it.  This is after you’ve disclosed to me that you have two close family members who went to treatment for addiction.  But, let’s not link your daughter to this.  She’s the one going off soon to earn that Ivy degree that you didn’t subliminally pressure her into needing.  This is the same child who dictates to you what type of treatment they want. Nothing, except meeting with their Psychiatrist who only has enough time to prescribe additional medication and see them on their way.  Maybe in a few months they’ll meet again to increase the dosage.

This is where I want to be frank, not that I haven’t already been in writing this.  I took the time to draft up a proposal to you, as the parent, on clinically what was recommended for your child.  The recommend said that said “hold the phone. We need to get supports first, and then send them off to school.” But I know what you did with that proposal.  You shared it with your child, because they’re your best friend and you want to make sure they’re included in this decision.  The same child who has pre-existing mental health issues, admitted to significant substance abuse (and advocating for treatment), and experienced a recent sexual assault.  Because they are the rational brain.  They definitely know what they need right now, and what they’re telling is you “get me to college so I can pretend this summer never happened.” 

As a professional, this tells me as a parent you have zero clue how trauma impacts the body.  And you are so enmeshed with your child that you cannot make a decision for the betterment of the family system.  That’s how I got looped in.  Sadly, you’re turning me away because you don’t understand the depth of your despair.  All I can do is wait on the sidelines, because sadly, it will get far worse before it gets better.  You want me to make predictions on what will happen?  I’d prefer you not ask.  I’ve had clients like that, and it truly breaks my heart.  More so because I want to believe the parents are willing to hire a professional to make executive decisions for the family.  Not because you want me to be excited for you when your child comes home from college worse off than they were before they left, and they really weren’t in a good spot to begin with.

Think about this for a minute.

A stutter-step before your young adult launches to college

If you remotely hesitate in believing whether or not your young adult is ready to head off to college, do not let them go! For the love of all things human!

From a business perspective, this is a bad deal.  It’s like buying a car that you know is a lemon, and then wishing with all your might that it’s money well spent.  Even though in your head and gut you know you completely just threw money away.  Am I calling your adult child a lemon, absolutely not!  What I’m saying is that as a parent if you remotely second guess your young adult’s readiness to head off to be a an extremely small fish in a massive ocean of large fish, do not let them go.  There are plenty of alternatives and opportunities to mature before heading off to college. And fun fact: college isn’t going anywhere!

What will happen though if you send them off “wishing” that they’d grow up quickly?  I can tell you, in fact I can nearly guarantee, they’ll fail.  There is no doubt in my mind.  Not because I don’t want them to be successful.  What I want and what I see and know are two very different things. Statistically speaking, your young adult will go off to college with the pressure they put on themselves to be successful, and the pressure you are putting on them as well.  This is often referenced as anxiety. Then, when they have one small hiccup in the challenges that exist in college it’s as if the entire floor disintegrated right under their feet and they are immediately in this extremely deep pit with no sign of light in getting out.  This is what is referenced as depression.  To make it even worse, they don’t tell you they’re in this pit.  They don’t want to upset you, or worry you, or worse – waste your money.  But guess what?  It’s too late for that.  We didn’t nip that in the bud back before the fall semester started because we so blindly pushed them into going off to college even though in our heart of hearts, we knew they weren’t ready.  Hell, maybe we weren’t ready for them to go either.

It all comes back to that stutter step.  Why did it happen in the first place?  Did you subconsciously realize that you’d never once taught them how to do their own laundry?  Or you’ve been waking them up for school for the last 18 years and never given them to space to teach them how to be self-sufficient?  Maybe it’s because you always told your friends they were really “shy” but deep down you knew they were socially overwhelmed and anxious.  Maybe they’ve been so academically hyper-focused that they’ve become addicted to the idea of being perfect.  I grew up on the East Coast, and sadly I completely understand that dilemma. 

It was not ill-intentioned on your part as a parent.  All you ever wanted for them was to be happy and more successful than you.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe your seven-figure salary was not actually motivating them to be better than you, but rather suffocating them into realizing they could actually never be better than you?  And maybe in that same vein, they actually realize you could just take care of them for the rest of their lives and why do they even need to go to college in the first place?  Ah!  That may not be the case for most, but it’s certainly for some.  For the students who want to go to college but just aren’t ready emotionally, we’re setting them up for failure.

That stutter step is your acknowledging as a parent that you didn’t fail, you just haven’t yet taught them all the things they need to master before launching on their own.  That’s your pause in acknowledging that maybe that shyness is really something that we need to seek therapy for.  It’s your way of saying without saying you don’t actually want to throw them in the water to see if they sink or swim, because we know they will immediately sink.  Period.

Gone are the days where our young people just need to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”  Forgive me for not caving to this 19th century idea of oppression in a 21st century world.  That old adage is garbage and it’s actually harming our young people.  No, they just can’t “pick themselves up.”  They’ve never stood on their own two feet.  Don’t you get it?  You’ve literally been the foundation, scaffolding, and electrical all along.  The idea of them being grown, successful, and ready for independence is a complete facade.  Mental health is real.  Generation Z is struggling for real, and the majority of them aren’t ready to be independently success on a college campus.  I will reiterate again, it has nothing to do with their academic preparedness.  To generalize, they don’t have the resilience.  They don’t have the life skills.  And we’re sending them off to experience their first failure in a horrific fashion.

So if you find yourself with that stutter step this week or next, seriously stop and think about what’s happening for a minute. Your expectations for your young adult could be clouding the reality of their impending academic and emotional doom.  That’s dramatic I know, but who wouldn’t end a blog rant on that kind of note? 

Without treatment, transferring colleges won't save a student!

As much as I would like to subscribe to the mindset that not every college is a good fit for every student, I also subscribe to the school of thought around “don’t send them to college if they aren’t going to succeed.” How can we guarantee success, you ask? Well, there certainly is not single best answer. Each student is different, as are their needs. What I can guarantee to you though is that switching them from one college where they flunked and helping them be admitted into another college without getting any help in between is a sure fire way to not guarantee success.

Let me make sure I understand your situation: you paid for two full semesters for your young adult to attend an elite school where they flunked both semesters, walking away with zero credits. And instead of seeing this as a red flag, you’re hiring a college consultant to help them transfer to another university. Do I have the story? If it is, forgive me for being somewhat confused. Confused like the emoji on your iPhone with the hand on the chin and a bewildered facial expression. Why would I reference that? To me, it seems like a lot of money being spent on a student who either has mental health concerns, substance abuse, or executive functioning deficits. Hell - maybe they just don’t even want to be in college! Maybe there was a recent trauma that has driven them to being isolated in their room. Maybe they had an IEP in high school but thought they could “do college” without accommodations. Whether it be anything related to college capital, or even parental pressures, this student really ought to not be in college right now. I mean, am I right? Or am I right?

This is the very thing I co-presented on at IECA in May 2019. I want Educational Consultants to stop and think about the story behind the failures. Helping them transfer their young adult to another college is sweeping any issues they have under the rug. And when the parent tells you not to mention that they attended another institution, stop right there. Professionally do not say another word. Where is the pitted feeling in your gut? Are you not hearing, thinking, feeling, seeing that something about this experience may be unethical? Or even that maybe it’s a tragic ending for this young adult? Even without a clinical degree, most people could tell that something might be wrong with that student. Right?

Act as a detective to gather information about what happened with this student. Ask, what supports did the student seek out for help (it might be safe to say “none”). Ask, how they felt about their academic performance. Ask them about whether or not they made friends! Truly, let’s get to the bottom of whether or not they even want to go to class, take accountability for their experience, or are suffering from extreme social anxiety.

There’s a literary masterpiece I like to talk about when I hear of an experience like this. You may be familiar with it.

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”

Portia Nelson,There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

You may not care to know this, yet I’ll still tell you. When I worked in higher education and I had a student in my office utterly oblivious to their cognitive distortions about being better academically because they were willing it (not because they were doing anything differently from before), I would ask them to read this poem. Out loud. And then ask them to reflect on what they thought the poem meant. I held up a metaphorical mirror in front of them. Those words didn’t come from my mouth, but I was able to help them process their situation once that light bulb went off. Note: I was not vindictive towards my students. A health dose of experiential Reality Therapy through goes a long way.

We as professionals working with young adults either getting them to college or helping them when they fall in college, need to halt in our tracks. We are perpetuating more failure for a young generation of individuals with little to no resiliency. When they fail, they isolate or self-medicate. They return home to sleep in the basement. They can’t separate themselves from what they did, so the shame in their higher education experience is so thick it’s hard to swallow. Switching colleges does nothing, especially if there is no moment of reflection on what happened. And if the parents are steering the ship for a new college with the specific request to “forget last year never happened,” we are truly doing a disservice to a younger generation that needs to take ownership, accountability, and needs to learn self-advocacy.

As an industry, let’s help these young adults walk down a different street. Let’s stand up to the parenting generation that still subscribes to the idea that college is the way to be successful, and that getting treatment for mental health and/or substance abuse is something to be ashamed of. We are allowing these parents to walk their young adults right into that black hole in the sidewalk. Let’s open our eyes. The time to stop this is now!

August is National Wellness Month

I’m not one to typically post about a themed month, yet this one strikes close to home. Wellness has been a priority for me recently, as I have gone through a lot of changes in my personal life. Truthfully, there are areas where I really feel “unwell” and depleted. With August also being my birthday month, I figured I definitely out to write about this.

When you think of ‘wellness’ the first thing that probably pops up is ‘physical wellness.’ But physical wellness is only one of eight domains when it comes to overall wellness. I used to love teaching wellness to my college students! They were often flummoxed in realizing that they weren’t ‘well’ because they were struggling in one or more domains that they didn’t know existed.

Let’s break it down. What are the Eight Domains of Wellness?

  1. Physical Wellness

    A. For me: Exercising daily (yoga, running, dance, etc.), sleeping 8+ hours, eating health foods (cutting out sugars)

  2. Emotional

    A. For me: See a Therapist, practice stress management techniques, intentionally practice acceptance and forgiveness

  3. Intellectual

    A. For me: Read(!), appreciate art (attend a First Friday walk), take a course and/or learn something new

  4. Social

    A. For me: Cultivate healthy attachments/relationships, community involvement (maybe volunteer?), Share my food preservation skills by teaching someone to waterbath can

  5. Spiritual

    A. For me: Seek harmony by being present with others and allowing them to be their authentic selves, practice meditation daily (even just 5 minutes), and seek alone time for reflection (i.e. hike 14ers)

  6. Environmental

    A. For me: Reduce, reuse, recycle (imagine Jackson Johnson singing!), intentionally conserve water or another resource.

  7. Occupational

    A. For me: Be open to change by learning new skills, explore career options (although I love my job!)

  8. Financial

    A. For me: create a budget and stick to it, strategize business expenses that will have at least one return on investment; and seek out at least one free event each week for “fun”

I’ll add the bonus of an 8th domain in being ‘financial.’ In this day and age, most people are struggling with their financial wellness - myself being one of them! I wrestle with feeling ashamed about his. At my age, I tell myself I should be in a different place. Sadly, that punishing thinking won’t get be anywhere but beating myself up and with no change in the financial situation.

In the end, wellness is a holistic idea. If we are struggling in one area, we may be overcompensating in another. Either way, we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of not being our best selves. I desperately want to be better, healthier, and ‘well.’ And when I say “I’m well,” I want to actually mean it. Not because I’m geeking out on the domains, but because I am truly in-touch with my well-being. I am actively working hard at better healthier and happier.

With it being my birthday month, and the start of yet another circle around the sun, I want to sit and reflect on this past year. I have made many new friends, both personally and professionally. I have made it through several anticipated and unanticipated transitions, all the while launching a business. I have been challenged beyond my wildest dreams on what it means to be exhausted, poor, and still holding on to a vision and dream. I know this year will bring more opportunities for me to focus on my well-being. I will express gratitude more, and try to expect less. I will see a Therapist more. I will work harder on myself, as well as my business. Every day is a new day. This month marks me being just one year older, and I feel it. Yet I want to also feel more grounded - in myself personally, and my work professionally. I look forward to spread the wellness love with everyone who I cross paths with this month and year!

What it means to be the "High Country" Consultant

Some of you may know this and others may not, that I spend a lot of my time in the Gunnison Valley area in Colorado. Of course, I still split my time because of clients, networking, and trainings but I mostly hang my hat in the mountains. As I’ve gotten older I can’t completely handle the extreme heat that looms over Denver in the summer months. So I’ve been retreating to the mountains, and that’s where I’ll always call myself “home.”

What I’ve learned rather quickly in being here is that mental health and substance abuse resources are slim. Like, very slim. The resources available to young people on the Front Range are abundant, whereas down here it’s practically non-existent. Although locally folks are trying to provide the resources that these young people need, they may not realize that some additional resources are at their finger tips.

It’s important to note that although I’m in Gunnison, to my knowledge, I’m the only Therapeutic Consultant on the entire Western Slope. A lot of my colleagues who live in Denver and Boulder can work with families on the Western Slope, yet none of them are experiencing the true mountain culture. For those of you reading this, it’s a completely different life down here. The Front Range is like a completely different country.

If you are working with families or know of families who may need the support of a Therapeutic Consultant, don’t hesitate to share my contact information. Often times local resources just aren’t enough. I travel the world to visit programs that could be a good resource for the families I work with. And on the map I may a few miles away as the crow flies, I’m also hours away crossing several mountain passes. Thankfully I have cell phone service where I live. I am able to speak with families in the High Country (Durango, Telluride, Grand Junction, Aspen, Steamboat, Dillon) - just as I am able to speak with the families I work with in Denver, Boston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. I understand the harsh winters here. I also moved here because I love winter! I understand how high altitude can impact the brain. I understand how someone can have embarrassment and worry for getting treatment for mental health in a small rural community. Just because we’re further away from a major airport doesn’t mean we are future away from needing the same resources as those who live in an urban area.

I just wanted to speak up about being here. I’m local. I’m not going anywhere. I want to help local families; in Gunnison and across the entire Western Slope. Every family needs to know what resources are available. It’s time you knew I was around.

Addiction Treatment as an Investment: Don't let program marketing fool you!

In an industry riddled with unethical practices and questionable services, I implore any family searching for treatment for their loved one to take all program marketing and advertising online with a grain of salt. “Don’t waste your time” looking online. Before I start busting chops [after recently coming across some rather aggressive marketing], I’d like to it throw out there that I have visited programs I would absolutely refer clients to. Programs that have been in business because of referrals from alumni; alumni that credit their sobriety and long term recovery to attending said program. Programs that don’t need to aggressively market.

There are programs I’ve yet to visit (and won’t) because I can see right through the BS. For a family desperate to find a treatment program for their loved one, your blinders are on and you may be easily fooled into hearing that the program can and will help. For me, all I see are dollar signs and money down the drain. I see young adults who will be in and out of multiple treatment programs, without success of staying sober. Treatment is expensive, so it’s wise to see it as an investment and make sure you’re being advised towards a program that can help from the start.

Insurance-driven over client-centered, short-term residential or PHP treatment programs with little aftercare planning unless it’s to a program they are buddies with - this is a program I’d personally avoid. This all makes my skin crawl. At the end of the day I’m recommending programs to families because of the milieu and deciding if their young adult will be a good fit, not solely because I like the program and I know they do great work. I’ll certainly call these programs first to see about space available, but not every young adult is the same. Consultants know and understand that. Sometimes, treatment programs do not. The phrase “heads on beds” is still a very real thing. When programs are in the practice of referring families directly to other programs, I just get extremely nervous and often say “well, I hope it works out for the young adult.” Should anything happen to the young adult without a Therapeutic Consultant, the family doesn’t have unbiased person they can seek out for advise and guidance.

Do I want the programs to do good work? Absolutely! Knowing I can’t stop them from referring directly to continuum care programs, do I hope they do a good job in their recommendation? Hell yes! It’s all about what’s best for the young adult. I personally don’t recommend programs I haven’t visited. Programs where I have seen the space, met the clinicians, and sat down with residents. My program visits are based on recommendations from people in the industry who I trust and respect. People who are leading the charge to “scorch the earth” around the feet of other shady programs and practices. Sadly, the treatment industry is a money-maker. We cannot be rid industry entirely of some ill-intentioned humans. Those of us that do good work though, we band together.

At the end of the day, if you are looking for treatment, whether it be locally or nationally, consider working with a Therapeutic Consultant. If you call programs directly, they are going to sell you on their program only. If you miraculously get the program that says “no” and turns you away, I’d personally have more respect for that program. It doesn’t happen often though. Therapeutic Consultants are objective and will lead you to programs that we know do quality work. We will be there to advocate for you, your loved one, and to be a part of the continuum of care; from detox to sober living and beyond. Addiction Treatment needs to be seen as any other large financial investment. No family would blindly spend money without checking references, seeking consultation, and making informed decisions. When it comes to finding treatment programs, working with a Therapeutic Consultant will be your best investment.

Gifting the entire toolbox before College

Millenials and Generation Z (“iGen”) are more talkative about mental health than any other generation.  Yet solely talking about our issues doesn’t change anything.  We may show up for therapy once a week, or once a month.  We get along swimmingly with our therapist, and we walk away with great solution-focused tactics that we role played in session.  When we’re smacked in the face by adversity though, we’re nearly paralyzed.  We’re avoidant.  We’re in complete denial, and depending on the situation we might let it get so bad that we have to be rescued. Literally.  Yes, I’m completely generalizing and catastrophizing.  And at the same time, the elephant in the room is that there’s a truth to what is being said.   

The most common diagnosis, whether self-diagnosed or not, are anxiety and depression.  No matter your professional role in working with adolescents, you see this showing up very differently in young people.  You might ask what can be attributed to these issues?  Well, we can certainly make assumptions.  Social media?  Absolutely!  Our brains are still developing and when we see other people doing [what appears to be] more adventurous and risk-taking behaviors, we naturally want to one-up them. Read: impulsive without thought to consequence.  Or we judge ourselves for the lives we’re living as being “less-than.”  Read: depressed.  Or, we feel the stress and pressure to stay on track academically because all our peers are managing to get straight A’s at another college and miraculously manage to party several nights a week as well.  Read: anxiety, perfectionism, and substance abuse.  Aside from social media, you might see two pretty common presentations as well.  One example being a young person who was outgoing and engaged and now suddenly withdrawn.  Read: trauma.  Or the young student who’s parent has stepped in to every situation to help ease any barriers they may experience.  This could include reading a college essay where your gut tells you the parents wrote it.  Or the parent who has been in touch with you numerous times asking for clarification or whatever it is you do with the adolescent (Math Teacher, Coach, etc.) and wanting to also pass judgement and express concerns – constantly.  Read: “Snow Plow Parenting.”  You know what I don’t love about absolutes or assumptions?  Well, for “assumptions” it makes an “ASS out of U and ME.”  So catchy, and yet so true.  Not every Millenial or iGen person is experiencing these problems, and without watering down some of these issues, they are more common than than we want to believe.  That’s nearly an absolute.

A School Counselor, Teacher, Coach, or anyone for that matter, who may see snippets of high school Senior students showing up in the ways I discussed above are the ones who can help these soon-to-be-adults with the skills they need to be successful during their college transition.  Now what’s super important for me to highlight right now is that success is subjective.  No one is perfect.  We often stumble and fall, and that’s how we learn and grow.  If we are left alone to our own device (literally), we may be on the fast track to a blow-out.  And no, I’m not referencing a diaper.

Here are some thoughts on the “tools” for the toolbox and indicators of whether or not a high school student will be able to stand on their own two feet when they get to college:

1.   Communication: What is the communication at home like?  How often are these students communicating with their parents?  Are they over-communicating to the point that it appears they are dependent?  And same goes for the parent.  Are you noticing that the parent is overly involved in knowing everything that’s happening with their child?  And what about the ability to ask for help? Has the student ever had to ask for assistance with anything?  Colleges are set up with an abundant of resources for students.  The catch?  They have to ask for it and/or show up to receive it.  Most students don’t know how to ask for help, let alone brainstorm who they need to be connected to in order to eliminate their discomforts.    

 

2.   Academic Engagement:  How did they show up in high school?  Did they skip a lot of school and still manage to get passing grades?  If they are skipping – where are they?  A big part of college is not showing up to class, but doing the work outside of class.  Are they going to college with a rigid plan for their major?  Nearly 50% of college students change their major at least once.  If we collectively know a student’s strength is not math and yet we’re encouraging them to be an Engineering major, we may be setting them up for failure. Not to mention, what do we think about the quality of their work?  Do they have the ability to take constructive feedback regarding their work and then adapt and change to meet the rigorous requirements of higher education?  Additionally, if a student as an IEP in high school it’s imperative we encourage them to get connected to the Disability Services office.  I can’t tell you the number of college freshmen I worked with who refused to get the accommodations they needed.  Just because you go to college doesn’t mean that a student’s disabilities, however significant, will magically disappear.  Let’s help set them up for success from Day 1!

 

3.   Social Engagement:  Let’s look at their friend groups in high school.  Did they have friends?  If they were connected to negative friend groups, what was their ability to break it off?  Or the reason to be connected in the first place?  Were they involved with interest groups – in and out of school?  Have they ever moved from one new town/school to another and be forced to establish new friends?  High School friend groups will dissipate when August rolls around.  Everyone will be in different places and meeting new friends.  The question becomes, does the now young adult know how to make new friends?

 

4.   Emotional Wellness: If a student had a mental health diagnosis in middle school, they will want to continue getting the help they need in college.  Students often wait until they’re in crisis to see a counselor on campus and at that point, the wait time for an appointment may be upwards of three weeks.  My recommendation: set up your appointment early.  Be proactive, rather than reactive.  If you know of a student who has experienced significant trauma prior to high school graduation (i.e. death in family, sexual assault, etc.) you’ll want to encourage that young person to look for a counselor on and off-campus.  Help them get the therapeutic resources put in place before they even step foot on campus!  Typically there are two ways to think about maladaptive behaviors in high school or college students.  The first is “outward” or externalizing behaviors such as aggression, hard partying, high-risk sexual activity, and substance abuse.  These are all very obvious and noticeable.  The second is “inward,” or internalizing behaviors such as social isolation, substance use, self-harm, poor self-care, and suicidality.  These are not always noticeable.  

 

5.   Physical Wellness:  What are the student’s sleeping, eating, and physical fitness habits?  So many high school athletes go to college and don’t do anything physical, and subsequently become depressed.  Or a student is addicted to social media and finds his sleep schedule reversed and now lives a nearly nocturnal life.  We talk about gut health and its connection to the brain, but that won’t stop a student from eating junk food.  Especially if they are not familiar with how to cook, let along meal prep and create a menu plan.

I can’t speak highly enough of Dr. Marcia Morris’ book The Campus Cure as a resource for parents whose children are launching into higher education.  She speaks to the problems, pressures, and crisis young adults are facing and how families can provide support from a distance.  The seemly simple concepts are not as easy to implement in the heat of the moment though!  It’s best for families to read this book before their child goes off to college.  That way you can be proactively prepared in knowing how to show up and support your child during their struggles.  It’s not an if, but rather a when.

At the end of the day, we collectively cannot point fingers at one single professional and say that it was ‘their fault’ the young person was not successful in their transition to college.  We can blame the parents for their parenting styles.  We can blame the academic rigor of their high school.  We can blame the social scene on campus for not being welcoming.  Or we can blame the now college-freshmen for not being resilient enough to make it through.  Regardless, it’s a team effort.  We can’t be bystanders in the lives of these young people as they launch into adulthood.  We are the gatekeepers and we need to be more assertive in sharing our wisdom, assisting students in getting connected, and ultimately leading them to taking charge of their own life. It’s a lot of work, and at the end of the day it truly takes a village.  In the face of the mental health crisis in higher education, we need a lot more folks to step up and make sure we’re helping with this “successful” transition into college.  

What's in a name? Well, apparently everything.

Nothing pains me more than to hear a parent tell me on the phone “until yesterday, I didn’t know someone like you even existed.” That statement is typically followed by audible sighs of relief for finally being connected to someone who can help ease the weight of their crisis. As a professional, I can’t help but bang my head against the wall with my efforts to raise awareness about the work I do. Apparently it’s still not working. Raising awareness means being able to help more who are hurting and struggling; it’s my own innate drive to help as many people as I can. My reactionary self wants to shout from the rooftops that “we’re here, and we do exist!” But there’s the catch - our name doesn’t necessary match the work we do.

On my business card you’ll see under my name, my profession is listed as “Therapeutic Consultant.” When I originally launched my business I went with the industry norm in being called an “Educational Consultant.” I was quickly asked how many adolescents I was navigating through the college process. My answer was always, and will be always be, “none.” That’s the furthest from the work I do. My consulting business is strictly for therapeutic placements. The work I do is with young adults only and their families. The young adults I’m hired to help are mostly struggling with co-occurring issues related to their mental health and substance use. The common theme is a young adult who is struggling with launching into adulthood. Regardless, “Educational Consultant” does not do justice to the work I do. So begs the question, what’s a better name?

A professional outside of my industry offered for me to try on the title “Young Adult Transitional Coach.” At first, I let that marinate. It felt very millenial-esque, yet very quickly it didn’t fit for me either. I didn’t want to get lumped into those who do coaching full-time. Not to mention, if anyone actually have that as a title. If so, please send me a private message as I’d love to connect to learn more about you! The closest I’ll ever get to coaching (again) is the high school girls soccer team in Denver that I did for a couple years. When it comes to my clients or their parents needing coaching, I lean on Coaching professionals to help. Sometimes I feel like I’m a Case Manager, yet that makes me think of a community social worker. I’ve been toying with the idea of “Behavioral Healthcare Navigator.” I want to tread lightly because I don’t want families to think I’m a health insurance expert in knowing which treatment programs will be covered. Again, that’s a separate call to another professional group that I’ll add to the team if that’s a priority for the family. That’s not my specific role. What I can help with though, is getting a family connected to someone who can help.

In a nutshell, this is what I do:

  • Gather information to paint a picture of what is needed for treatment and therapeutic support by connecting with all current professionals and concerned parties in the life of the young adult (ie parent, professor, therapist, etc.).

  • If no information can be provided due to an client never having received mental health care, connect family with local resources including by not limited to Therapist with specific training and expertise that would be helpful for the client, Group Therapy, Mentoring, Life Coaching, Psychologist for testing, and/or Psychiatrist.

  • Should the client needs a higher level of mental health support immediately due to an emergency situation (ie hospital discharge), I ease the weight of the crisis by researching placements and presenting program recommendations to family and young adult that are best-fitting for their needs and has availability.

  • Provide Case Management with family, program staff, and young adults while in treatment. Constantly looking ahead to the “next steps” for continued care and support for the needs of the entire family.

  • Travel constantly to visit potential programs ensuring that I am recommending ethical programs to the families I work with. These programs include: residential treatment, wilderness therapy, young adult transitional programs, detox, recovery programs, sober living, mentoring programs, and anything unique that could be ideal for a specific client.

Why this is continuously tugging on me is because when parents go to Google to ask for resources, we don’t pop up. Period. A family might be really lucky if they end up connecting with a Therapist who happens to know about our profession. This is not an anomaly, yet it’s few and far between. That means we rely heavily on all clinicians to know we exist. Not shocking to hear, few do. In fact, a lot of them don’t.

In the end, I know the work I do is imperative to the families I help. Whatever they want to refer to me as, I won’t ever correct them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion is categorizing me into how they see me in helping them. Maybe one day I’ll end up working for a very creative family who will help me solve this puzzle for myself. Who will hit the name on the head for titling our profession, spreading awareness, and subsequently helping to connect more families to this type of resource. For now, I’ll continue to settle with “Therapeutic Consultant.” When someones asks me to clarify what that means, which to be clear happens every single time I’m asked about my profession, I’ll happily share. To try to summarize, I help young adults and families get connected to the most appropriate therapeutic supports, and no young adult is the same in what they need. Realistically though, I hope they have more than three minutes to listen because it’s not a simple elevator speech in describing the work that I do.

If you or someone you know is in need of finding a Therapeutic Consultant, search for someone who can help here: Therapeutic Consulting Association.