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Summer Solstice 2019

October 15, 2019

The Value of Helping College Students with Schizophrenia Socialize

Navigating mental health issues while away from home can be difficult for any college student, but especially for those with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Compared with other students, students with schizophrenia are 70% more likely to become college drop-outs. Schizophrenia disrupts the ability to differentiate between reality and psychotic episodes, potentially leading to paranoia and, consequently, anxiety in social settings such as school. But a schizophrenia diagnosis does not automatically end a college career. And for students who take a leave of absence due to psychotic episodes, returning to college can be beneficial for recovery.

Whether a student with schizophrenia is just starting college or returning, counselors who establish relationships with them, working to set goals and to connect them with campus groups, help to establish a foundation for success in college and in building friendships.

College Offers Structure

Routines keep patients on track with recovery. Schizophrenia is marked by disorganized thinking ― a class schedule can offer stability during an otherwise chaotic day.

Combined with regular counseling appointments, college students with schizophrenia can develop coping skills and re-introduce themselves into social situations. Family can also support students during this time and act as models for successful social interactions. In other words, familial relationships are models for how students will interact with their peers, and if families can showcase stable interactions, this will allow students to develop and foster relationships as their daily routines grow and shift.

Students Develop Their Identities in College

College is an important developmental time in a student’s life. Seventy-five percent of individuals with mental illnesses show symptoms by age 24 ― an age by which many are or are becoming functionally independent. University counseling centers can assist students to incorporate themselves into the college community — supporting development of an identity that integrates, not ignores, their struggles.

Socializing students with schizophrenia allows them to explore different aspects of their personalities that they may not be able to understand on their own. Review anxiety-inducing interaction themes with clients to better understand their social tendencies. Some students might feel most anxious in the classroom when they need to participate in academic conversations or take tests. Others might feel most apprehensive in their dorm rooms communicating with roommates; some might become paranoid as they walk around campus. Counselors might encourage family and childhood friends to help students with schizophrenia understand how they react to different situations, and to identify beneficial characteristics they may want to seek out in friendships and romantic relationships.

Support Systems on Campus Help Students Grow

The stigma traditionally associated with mental illness has been on the decline. As students acclimate to college, they are becoming more open to the idea of seeking help from mental health professionals if they are struggling ― 79.9 percent of college students would consider seeing a mental health professional if their health was declining.

Mental health advocacy groups and clubs on campus such as Students with Schizophrenia can be effective resources for students trying to socialize and adjust to college life with this diagnosis since members already have common interests. Plus, having peers who are encountering some of the same stressors can lead to more effective problem-solving.

Short-term residential community stays can also help socialize patients when treatment begins early. Hopewell’s unique approach to residential treatment encourages socializing with other young adult patients in several different settings. Residents actively improve communication skills that can be applied upon return to college.

Socialization can be more difficult for students with schizophrenia. But with support from counselors, family and friends to uncover primary social stressors and identify healthy coping mechanisms, students can start college, stay in college, and return to college successfully.

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