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How to Spot If Your Child is Struggling With Their Mental Health at University?

We look at some of the signs you can look out for that your child might be struggling and how you can get them the support they need...

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
22 Sep 2022

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As a parent, you often know when something isn’t right with your child. You know what’s going on in their life and, being around them, you can pick up on their mood swings and tell when they are unhappy or stressed about things.

Up until now, you’ve been able to keep a close eye on them and make sure they’re aware of your support. But new concerns can arise when it's time to head back to sixth form or start university.

Without being able to see them face to face it can be harder to spot when they’re struggling, especially as a large percentage of university students choose not to tell those close to them when they’re struggling.

Here we’ll look at some of the signs that you can look out for that your child might be struggling with something and how you can get them the help and support they need.

What Are the Signs?

There are a variety of different signs that your child is struggling with mental illness whilst at university and they aren’t always obvious to spot, especially when your miles away. But here are some of the signs you may notice:

Less Communication Than Usual

It’s worth noting when your children go off to university they will enjoy the freedom they are presented with, therefore they may communicate less with you as time goes on and they get busier with having fun. This is normal and not to be worried about.

But if you notice your child is completely avoiding you and your calls, it may be worth checking in. You should also monitor how they are when they do contact you. Are they enthusiastic and happy to share details about their life with you? Or do they seem withdrawn or like they are hiding something?   

When you do speak to them it’s worth trying to ask if there are any issues, but don’t push the topic if they get defensive.

Changes in Appearance

Sometimes going to university can make your child gain more confidence and this might lead them to change up their style. However making a big change to their appearance or just completely giving up on their looks and personal hygiene can both be signs of mental illness.

It’s important not to confuse the two - changes which appear to be more drastic and ‘overnight’ are worth focussing in more on.

Not Coming Home to Visit

University tends to have regular holidays like school and college, especially at the end of each term and during the festive season. Making plans in advance for your child to come can be good for both of you as it allows you to have something to look forward to. If your child seems hesitant to come home and visit or completely avoids it, it may be worth going to see them in person or trying to speak to them more about why. 

Seeming Otherwise Engaged During Visits/Calls

Usually, when someone is struggling with a mental health problem they tend to find it hard to focus on conversations. Other signs, such as struggling to keep eye contact, not paying attention, and a lack of interest in most things in general can all be signs of a mental health problem. Although these signs may not appear obvious to start with, if you watch out for them, it is likely you will be able to step in before it gets worse.  

Ultimately, it’s hard to tell when someone is struggling with a mental illness as people tend to be able to hide this well. Remind your child it is nothing to be ashamed of when they feel like they’re failing and reassure them that this is not the case. If they seem stressed or depressed, it’s important to remind them they can speak to you, their lecturers, or the support teams at their university for help.

What Can I Do as a Parent Whilst My Child is at Uni?

If your child is going to university with a diagnosed mental health condition, discussing a plan for managing their condition before they leave and providing them with numbers which may be helpful in a time of crisis is a good idea.

Making sure that your child knows they can reach out to you with anything at any time can feel reassuring too. If your child reaches out to you with a problem, if possible, help them to resolve this to the best of your ability. And if you can’t resolve it yourself, then don’t be ashamed to reach out for help from the university and other trained professionals. The quicker you get your child help, the better for them.

Can the University Help?

With research showing that 1 in 4 university students struggle with a mental health condition, universities have invested a lot in their student support services over recent years. The majority of universities now have their own trained counsellors on campus, along with other student support facilities which can help students with any issues they may be going through.


- Student Reviews: Find out what current students think of the support services at your child’s chosen university.

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