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Thriving, Not Just Surviving: Promoting Mental Well-being in High School and College Students

As seen in ScoopCharlotte

A typical day in the offices of Garrett Educational Consulting (GEC) includes students filtering in and out, attending meetings with their parents to talk about their college process with Katie Garrett, founder of GEC, joining a resume or college application workshop, or coming in for office hours to work on their college applications.

“I spend my days with teenagers,” says Katie. “I hear and see a lot in my day-to-day work.  Stress is real for these kids, the pressure to perform is real, the anxiety over college admissions is real,” says Katie.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Garrett Educational Consulting devoted a podcast episode to what is going on with the mental health of our high school and college students.  And with good reason; in today’s high-stress environment, it has never been more critical to understand the mental health challenges young people face and equip them with the tools not merely to survive but thrive. 

In their latest podcast episode, GEC sat down with Dr. Taren Coley from HopeWay, bringing insights and tips straight from the mental health professionals themselves. This content is especially pertinent to teens and the adults guiding them on their journeys. 

Recognizing the Line Between Typical Stress and Anxiety

One of the first and most significant challenges for young individuals is recognizing signs of mental health decline. For many, anxiety may seem like the new normal – because stress and deadlines, after all, are part of the educational backdrop. However, distinguishing everyday jitters from an actual anxiety disorder is crucial.

It’s normal to feel anxious before a big test or speaking in front of a class. Yet, when that worry becomes excessive or begins to interfere with day-to-day life, it could be an indication of a deeper issue. Understanding the tipping point is key to proactive management. For example, regular nervous jitters before a performance are typical but if those jitters spiral into panic attacks or debilitating self-doubt, it’s time to take a step back and reassess how to regain control.

Practical Stress Management for Students

In a student’s busy life, stress often feels inevitable. However, Dr. Coley offered some simple things a student can do to help manage some of this stress.  “Do things that bring you joy,” Dr. Coley stated.  Engage and spend time with friends, enjoy your hobby or take up a new one, make sure that you are staying organized with your work so that you don’t have that crushing stress as deadlines loom.

Building healthy habits over time can also significantly reduce the intensity and frequency of stressors. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and maintaining a social support system are foundational in a young person’s life – and they’re powerful tools against overwhelming stress.

Guidance for Parents on Intervening in Their Teen’s Struggles

Parents walk a fine line between being supportive and offering independence. When is it appropriate for parents to step in, and when should they stand back?  Parents can be an invaluable source of support for teens in distress, but learning to provide assistance without crossing into the realm of over-involvement is crucial for fostering independence.

It is an important part of development in our students for them to learn to manage their workloads and to advocate for themselves with teachers or employers. As much as it hurts to see we have to let our students experience failure, it is how they learn and grow into responsible adults says Dr. Coley.  

But how does a parent know when normal stress has crossed over to something more concerning?  Dr. Coley says that parents should look for changes in a student’s behaviors – more or less sleep than usual, a withdrawal from normal activities, and a significant change in academic performance are things to look for, as well as more immediate warning signs like a student expressing feelings of hopelessness or ideas of self-harm.

If warning signs do appear it is important for parents and educators to take these signs seriously and address them promptly.

Debunking Misconceptions About Teen Mental Health

There are many myths and stigmas surrounding adolescent mental health, which can further compound the issue. Dr. Coley dives into these misconceptions and explains why an open, understanding approach is more conducive to well-being.

It’s Not Just “Teen Angst”

Referring to all teenage moodiness as “just a phase” downplays the validity of their feelings and can prevent them from getting the help they need. Adolescent mental health is a complex issue that requires thoughtful consideration.

Too often, seeking professional help is seen as a last resort; asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Sometimes, the most challenging step for a troubled teen is reaching out to someone for help. That’s why creating a supportive environment where teens feel comfortable opening up is crucial. “That is one of the roles I am privileged to fill,” says Katie, “a trusted adult who provides a place where it is safe for students to come and express themselves.” 

Mental Health Awareness Month is more than just a time to raise awareness – it’s a call to action to prioritize and promote mental well-being.  Listen to Garrett Educational Consulting’s full podcast episode with Dr. Coley by clicking HERE, and check out the description for links to a resource on HopeWay’s teen programming and to HopeWay.


Garrett Educational Consulting provides comprehensive application support to students going through the college admissions and boarding school admission process.  Learn more about their services by clicking HERE.

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