The use of medication to treat mental illness in teens is on the rise. In the 1990s, about 14 percent of teens were on psychotropic medications. The figure increased to 20 percent by the middle of the 2000s and continues to climb. The result is that more college students arrive on campus freshman year with their medication in tow. Unfortunately, many stop taking them for various reasons once they get to campus.


The Fear of Stigma

Students sometimes stop taking medications for fear of stigmatization. College provides teens a chance to remake themselves in a new town where no one knows about them or their past issues. Getting caught at the pharmacy or health counseling center picking up a prescription, however, could cue other students into their mental health issue. This fear is enough to push some students off their medications.


A Hectic Schedule

Sometimes college students simply forget to take their medication. College life represents a complete schedule change for students who now live in an environment where all-night study sessions are normal and class schedules change daily. This lack of routine makes it easy to skip a dose or forget a medication altogether. Since they’re living on their own now, these students don’t have mom and dad there to remind them about their pills. As they miss scheduled medication times, some students may become more forgetful and distracted, exacerbating the problem.


Unwanted Side Effects

Some teens experience unpleasant side effects when taking psychotropic medications. Many would likely choose to stop these medications if the choice were left up to them. Once they enter college, it is. Without their parents there to oversee their dosing and keep them on track, some teens choose to stop the medication to avoid the unwanted side effects. Because the drugs often keep working for a few days until they clear the body completely, many believe themselves to be doing fine without the medication. This belief empowers their choice to stop taking their prescription.


The good news is, parents can help teens stay on track even when they’re miles away at school. The trick is to plan ahead, meeting with school counselors and campus health workers before the teen arrives on campus and hammering out a plan. Choose a counselor for the teen and set up counseling sessions or periodic check-ins to confirm that all is well and stays well as the student adjusts to campus life. Teens may also agree to grant their parents access to their mental health records while away so parents can keep tabs on health information that would otherwise get deemed private. Clear expectations paired with a plan of action will help ensure students stay on track and transition smoothly to college life.

Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit or call 718-845-2620.