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Network Matters
News and Information for the
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Network

August 2016

Behavioral Health Care During Transition to College


The transition from high school to college can be a turbulent time for many young adults, with dramatic changes in their daily routines, new experiences and exposures, a higher level of independence, and more pervasive social pressures. It is important for PCPs to make sure their patients who are going off to college understand the support that is available to them during this new chapter of their lives — and to make sure any necessary arrangements are made for the seamless continuation of any behavioral health care they may require.

Young adult patients with existing behavioral health conditions may feel ill-prepared to handle the transition from high school to college, or may feel as though they are lacking the resources needed to account for the newfound decreased structure in their lives. For these patients, it is critical for PCPs to coordinate medical management ahead of time. Arrangements should be made to ensure that patients have access to in-network therapists in the geographic area their college or university is in (which can be facilitated by calling Optum/UBH), and to ensure that they will have enough doses of any medications they are prescribed to last until their next break, or a means of getting refills in the area. And as the potential for diversion is higher in this new environment, these patients should continue be followed closely to ensure medication adherence.

For patients with known behavioral health diagnoses who are stable in their medications, it may also be necessary to discuss changes in the appropriate times to take the medications to account for altered class and sleep schedules, the necessity of switching from a short-acting medication to a longer-acting one, etc.

The changes young adults face in their academic and social routines when they transition from high school to college can exacerbate pre-existing behavioral health issues, as well as cause new ones to surface. The stress, pressures, and poor sleep patterns associated with college life lead to anxiety and depression in many students, and the age range of these patients is also when conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can begin to present. Additionally, intelligent students who were able to effectively manage their high school workload may suddenly display signs of ADHD upon transitioning to college, demonstrating a drop in their ability to perform due to the sudden lack of structure and direction.

Regardless of whether a young adult patient already has a diagnosed mental health disorder or not, it is important for PCPs to make sure they know what mental health services are available at their college or university, such as crisis management and adjustment counselors, mentors, and nursing offices. Harvard Pilgrim encourages PCPs in our network to call Optum/UBH to learn more about the resources that may be available to them to help coordinate care for students transitioning from high school to college.
 
How Optum/UBH can help your patients — For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at 800-292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum at 888-777-4742.

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