By Maya Rhodan
Dana hadn’t had any prior experiences with mental illness when her son Oliver went back to school at Kenyon College, but just three weeks into his winter semester he suffered from a mental break.
The signs were there. As a student athlete, Oliver was still participating in the school’s track program, but after he’d retreat to his room instead of heading off to class. He wasn’t hanging out with friends and stopped answering calls from his mom. And soon after, he recalled in a conversation with TIME, he started to hear voices. “I started forming these out-there ideas,” says Oliver, who asked not to include his last name. “I starting thinking a neighbor in my dorm was trying to kill me.”
Because Oliver was 18, his mother wasn’t immediately notified about the change in his behavior. His friends and dorm mates were also ill-informed about the warning signs of a pending mental health crisis, so Oliver says there was no formal intervention until he got into an argument with members of the school’s lacrosse team. After that incident, he was admitted to a hospital and later transferred to its psychiatric ward. And it was then, despite trying to reach out to Oliver on a number of occasions and calling his track coach, that his mother became aware of his problem. “I didn’t receive any information until the hospital called me,” she says.
What happened to Oliver and Dana is not at all uncommon. Though mental illness may not be at the forefront of parents’ and students’ minds when they go off to college, young adulthood is a critical period for mental health. Seventy five percent of mental illnesses are onset by age 24 and 43.8 million adults, about one in five, experienced a mental illness in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And yet the experiences students and parents have in dealing with mental illness can vary greatly from campus to campus, making it important for people to gain knowledge about what to expect, and what to look out for, imperative.