(This page is for students who are parents and for staff and faculty who may be interested in helping student parents)

Student parents are at greater risk for negative mental health outcomes, particularly if in the age group 18-25 years old.

Student parents may be experiencing:

  • Feeling isolated on campus
  • Challenged to juggle the multiple demands of childcare, coursework, and employment
  • Feelings of guilt about the time you are able to spend with you child
  • Additional stress and anxiety about being able to buy food and pay your bills
  • Thoughts about dropping out of school
  • Expectations and pressure from professors about being able to attend consistently and get assignments completed in standard timelines
  • Challenges finding daycare and balancing your schedule with your child’s school schedule
  • Low mood or depression (Yes, dads and partners can have postpartum depression too!)
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Veteran parents may be experiencing higher levels of distress
  • Anxiety
    Some anxiety is adaptive – it can help you stay on track and get things done. However, intense, prolonged, or excessive worry is not healthy.
    • You may be experiencing:
    o Feeling nervous
    o Increased heart rate
    o Sweating
    o Trembling
    o Trouble sleeping
    o Concentration troubles
    o Thoughts of hurting yourself or that life is not worth living

    • When to seek assistance:
    o Your worry is interfering with your ability to get things done
    o Your busy mind is regularly keeping you from getting good sleep
    o Anxiety is getting in the way of being the kind of parent you aspire to be
    o Your anxiety is getting in the way of relationships
    o You have thoughts of suicide or are harming yourself
  • Depression
    Everyone feels low mood or sad sometimes. Feeling sad after major changes or losses is to be expected.
    • You may be experiencing:
    o Low mood
    o Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
    o Feeling worthless
    o Changes to your appetite
    o Sleep changes
    o Thoughts of hurting yourself or that life is not worth living

    • Difference between baby blues and postpartum depression:
    o Fatigue, sleep deprivation, adjustment, frustration, and new pressure are all normal and expected experiences after having a baby
    o Below is a comparison between baby blues and postpartum depression:

     

    Baby blues

    Postpartum depression

    Duration:

    typically shorter, typically less than 2 weeks, and less intense than postpartum depression.

    Postpartum depression has more severe symptoms and lasts a minimum of 2 weeks

     

    Signs:

    ·  Unexpected tears

    ·  Feeling overwhelmed

    ·  Fatigue

    ·  Emotional fluctuations

     

    ·  Depressed mood

    ·  Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities

    ·  Weight changes when you are not trying to gain or lose

    ·  Problems with sleep even when baby lets you sleep

    ·  Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt

    ·  Trouble concentrating

    ·  Thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your life

    ·  Some people experience thoughts that they might harm the baby

    ·  In rare cases (<0.5%) experience an episode of psychosis, or losing touch with reality

     

    It’s important to note that:
    o Postpartum can begin within days or even months of giving birth
    o Postpartum depression can affect your child’s developmental outcomes

    When to seek assistance:
    • Your low mood has lasted for two weeks or more
    • You notice that you are self-medicating (drugs or alcohol) • Your mood is making it hard for you to be the kind of parent you want to be
    • Your mood is getting in the way of your relationships or ability to get your work done
    • You are isolating yourself from others
    • You have thoughts of harming yourself
    • You have thoughts of harming your baby
    • Postpartum psychosis can be severe for mom and baby. If these symptoms occur, it is important that mom receives medical assistance immediately.
  • Trauma
    More people have experienced some form of trauma than you might think; Studies show that more than ¾ of the population has experienced at least one adverse childhood event (ACE). Trauma takes many different forms, some examples are:
    • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
    • Birth trauma • Childhood neglect
    • Having family members with a substance disorder
    • Traumatic birth of your child or baby having to stay in the NICU
    • Community violence
    • Natural disaster
    • Poverty and discrimination
    • Generation/historical trauma

    Traumatic experiences can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope and the responses that helped you survive the experience at the time can continue to have longer term effects on you. When we are faced with a threat our normal protective responses are fight, flight, or freeze. These responses may continue to be activated in you to things that are reminders of the trauma and sometimes the reminders and the responses can be subtle and hard to recognize, but they may still be affecting you.

    You may be feeling:
    • Overwhelmed
    • Vulnerable
    • Betrayed
    • Helpless
    • Frightened
    • Alone

    You may be experiencing:
    • Anxiousness
    • Having a hard time feeling positive emotions
    • Having challenges parenting the way you want to
    • Troubles with concentration
    • Feeling irritable or on edge
    • Emotionally distancing (from others as well as yourself)
    • Numbness

    Trauma is complex, your experience is unique to you, and how you are coping is not only about you as an individual. How you cope with and move beyond your trauma experience is going to be influenced by the types of supports that you have access to, cultural influences, spiritual beliefs, how you and those around you construct meaning about the trauma, and how the larger systems treat you in response to your trauma.
    Untreated trauma has been linked to greater risk of physical and behavioral health problems in adulthood, negative parent and child outcomes, and relationship problems. Sometimes these negative effects are linked to coping mechanisms that are used to help alleviate the pain of the experience. Some examples of these coping mechanisms are using alcohol or drugs, smoking, and unhealthy eating. Sometimes the negative coping looks more like turning off emotions and separating or disengaging from important relationships.

    When to seek assistance:
    • The sooner the better. You matter and seeking support can help you live a full life in spite of your experiences.
    • It takes great courage to start talking about what you have experienced, and you deserve to feel better!
  • For Student Parents: How can University Counseling Service be helpful?
    University Counseling Services offers many different options for mental health information and treatment.
    Brief individual therapy (3-8 sessions on average):
    o The individual therapy services at the UCS are short-term in nature. This means that you and your assigned counselor will focus on resolving the immediate problems that brought you to the UCS and specific goals.
    o 3-8 sessions is our average, but there are no specific session limits
    Group therapy:
    o Group therapy can be long-term counseling in which you may participate as long as you need. The group setting resembles our daily interactions and makes the best opportunity for you to transfer what you learn in therapy to the real life.
    Case Management Appointments:
    o Assistance with finding referral options, figuring out your insurance benefits, and following up to ensure you’re getting the help you needed.
    Outreach Services:
    o Skills-based Workshops: UCS offers regular psychoeducational and skills-based workshops every semester for students. Typically, the workshops would focus on coping skills for anxiety, depression, and general distress (please check out our webpage for current offerings).
    o Support Groups: UCS offers support groups for students who hope to connect with those with similar identities or experiences. Please check out our webpage for current offerings).
    o Let’s Talk, Hawks: Let's Talk, Hawks! is a drop-in consultation service offered by the University Counseling Service (UCS). It provides you with an opportunity to have an informal, confidential, anonymous conversation with a UCS therapist.
    o Self-Paced Resources: check out the page to learn tips about mental health at your own pace.
    Social media: follow up on social media for updated programs and mental health tips!
    o Instagram: @uiowaucs
    o Facebook: @uiowaucs
    o The UCS Podcast: Therapists are People!? https://counseling.uiowa.edu/podcast/
    Schedule an appointment: University Counseling Services
    o Call 319-335-7294 (8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday)
    o Find more information about our services at https://counseling.uiowa.edu/
    o Questions? You can also email us at ucs@uiowa.edu
  • Communicating with your professors
    Student Care and Assistance: https://dos.uiowa.edu/assistance/
    • Provides assistance to UI students experiencing crisis and emergency situations
    • Central location that assists students with overcoming challenges and continue toward graduation
    Asking professors for temporary adjustment to academic schedules:
    • Ask your professor for time to meet to discuss your needs
    • Try to be as open as possible with what you are experiencing
    • Be specific with what your needs are in order to get your work done and not be penalized for missed lectures. You might be able to ask for:
      • more time to complete assignments/extend deadlines
      • access to recorded lectures
      • flexibility with attendance policies such as when you have to miss for your child being sick receive help through virtual office hours
  • For Faculty and Staff: What can I do to help my students who are parents?
    • Student parents access academic supports more often than non-parents. Train yourself and your staff to recognize when a student is struggling and help refer them to resources
    How to recognize struggling students:
    o Trouble with time management
    o Avoiding interactions in lectures
    o Showing signs of frustration, anger, or anxiety
    o Changes in attendance or showing up late
    Know the unique stressors faced by student parents:
    • Student Parents are more likely to experience:
    o Feeling isolated and disconnected from campus
    o Difficulty balancing childcare, coursework, and employment
    o Increased stress and anxiety
    o Guilt related to not spending time with children
    o Challenges with paying bills or access to basic needs
    o More likely to be facing food insecurity o More likely to experience panic attacks

    How to help student parents:
    • Incorporate flexibility for student parents
    o Offering asynchronous learning options can help student parents complete their coursework when their children are not vying for their attention
    o Consider flexible attendance policies and excused absences for student parents to help them navigate unforeseen challenges like when their child has to stay home sick
    o Facilitate opportunities for student parents to connect with each other outside of the class
    o Offer virtual office hours
    • Be able to help connect your student parents to campus and community resources such as University Counseling Services (319-335-7294).

    More information: