Brain Training: How Strengthening Your Brain Can Improve Your Mental Health

Brain training

When people talk about mental health, they don’t often think about the “health” part of the phrase. In fact, most people assume that the only way to recover from mental illness is to take medication or spend hours talking to a therapist.

But it turns out that it’s possible to train our brains to improve brain health, just the way we train our bodies.

“Your brain is an instrument. It’s a living, changing, malleable thing,” explains Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “The more you use your brain, and the more different ways you use it, the more flexible and adaptive your thinking patterns can become.”

Having a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, can interfere with your ability to think clearly. Someone with depression may have brain waves that are slowed down, while someone with anxiety and stress may have activity in a rigid but chaotic pattern — both of which would prevent someone from being able to make reasonable, meaningful decisions.

In fact, brain scans of the young adults who come to Yellowbrick show that initially many have significant cognitive impairments in areas such as attention, memory, decision-making and executive functioning.

Wade says many people with mental illness have a tendency toward rigid thinking and often have difficulty seeing multiple options or solving problems. For example, someone with mental illness may think “I’m not good at making friends,” or “I’m a terrible person,” and the more the person thinks those same thoughts, the more ingrained they become in his or hermind.

That’s why Yellowbrick uses brain training to re-wire our neuropathways, helping us to make our brains become more flexible, which allows us to ultimately think different thoughts.

In order to do this, the young adults at Yellowbrick participate in computer-mediated cognitive exercises designed to enhance problem solving, memory, visual spatial understanding, attention and more. For example, one brain training module may require you to remember a string of numbers, while another one may have you organize images, solve a Rubik’s cube, or mentally rotate a picture. In addition, the young adults engage in real-world cognitive training, including group problem-solving, where they have the opportunity to see that there are many different ways to approach a problem.

Wade says by challenging your brain, you are activating different neuropathways and improving your ability to adapt to the challenges of the world.

Of course, if you don’t have access to these specially designed computer brain training programs, there are other ways you can strengthen your brain on your own.

4 Brain Training Tips

  1. Try Something New
    “One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to try something new every day,” Wade says. You can drive a new way to school or work, make a new recipe, read a new book, etc. “When you do something new, you’re no longer on autopilot. You’re noticing things, you’re alive and in the moment.” Not only does that help create new neuropathways, it also doesn’t give you time to wallow on your problems.
  2. Consider Multiple Options
    When facing a problem or making a decision, brainstorm possible solutions with the critical part of your mind turned off. Give yourself the freedom to explore and propose approaches. Consider the pros and cons of each option only after you have developed a list of possibilities. This method reduces rigid thinking and opens you up to more creative solutions.
  1. Do Things the Hard Way
    Another way to train your brain is to avoid using technology as a crutch. Instead of copying a phone number one digit at a time, try to remember the entire thing at once, then check to see if you are right. Or try to figure out an arithmetic problem by hand, using your calculator only as a backup. Engaging in any activity that is mentally challenging, including the ones mentioned, will strengthen your brain.
  2. Exercise
    Getting your body moving is another great way to support the health of your brain. Wade says exercise can help boost the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain, which is the most energy-intensive organ in the body. Studies have shown that exercise can help with memory, attention, and executive function.

5 Signs That You May Be Minimizing Trauma


We all have a tendency to minimize traumatic events. We tell ourselves, “That’s in the past. I should be over that by now.” It’s certainly a healthy response to want to let go and move on. But trauma doesn’t typically resolve on its own, and eventually our bodies and minds will let us know when something needs to be addressed.

“No one wants to say ‘I’ve been traumatized,’” says Robbie Bogard, Director of Integrative and Group Services at Yellowbrick. “You may not define your symptoms as trauma-related. You just know something is wrong.”

Ironically, one of the reasons trauma becomes minimized is that there is such a broad variety of experiences that qualify as traumatic. Serious physical injury is one obvious cause of trauma, but any event that leaves you feeling frightened, alone and interferes with your life going forward can be considered traumatic. It can be the result of a powerful one-time event, or come from a series of unpleasant experiences that leads to long-term problems, such as growing up with an alcoholic parent, being shamed about being overweight, being date raped or being in an abusive relationship, or many other scenarios.

Traumatic experiences overwhelm the mind and body’s ability to integrate the experience into memory and store it as you would other life experiences. For that reason, it keeps showing up in many ways, including those described below.

So how do you know if you are suffering from something you’ve told yourself was “no big deal”?

Signs You’ve Experienced Trauma

  1. You feel overwhelmed
    Did something happen unexpectedly? Were you unprepared for it? Did you feel helpless to prevent it? Do you feel you can’t talk to anyone about it because no one else can understand? Feeling that you have no control over your life or no one to turn to is a sign of trauma.
  1. You have flashbacks
    Are you being triggered by certain sights, sounds, or smells that remind you of the incident? Is your life being interrupted by intrusive symptoms, whether in the form of upsetting images, memories, nightmares, crying, or sudden anger? Any strong emotional or physical reaction that doesn’t seem to be connected to the present situation can be the result of a buried trauma.
  1. You often “space out”
    Feeling numb or having flat emotions is a common result of trauma. Maybe you have difficulty staying present, or find yourself disconnecting from others. This desire to isolate or zone out could mean that you haven’t processed a painful memory.
  1. You overreact or respond inappropriately
    Do you startle easily? Does the slightest stress send you into panic mode? Bogard calls this a “hyper-aroused response” and says it’s another sign that you may be minimizing a trauma.
  1. You feel ashamed
    Do you sometimes feel that you can’t do anything right? Do you find yourself thinking, “If only I hadn’t done that, this never would have happened”? One of the most common types of trauma is interpersonal trauma, which includes physical or sexual abuse, or bullying. Shame plays a big part in this kind of trauma, as well as a tendency to blame yourself.

These five signs of trauma can be your mind know you have important emotions that need to be processed. If you’ve been denying or ignoring any of them, know that there are steps you can take to begin to truly move past trauma.

Steps to Recover From Trauma

  • Seek out someone who is experienced in helping others.
  • Tell a trusted friend.
  • Join a group for survivors of trauma.

Bogard says that the goal is to be supported as you connect your feelings to your memories. Integrating the two will allow you to release self-blame, sadness, anger, and fear. You’ll minimize not the trauma itself, but the ability it has to affect your life.

For more information on Yellowbrick’s trauma recovery treatment, click here.

It’s a Shame: The symptoms of shame and how to combat it

symptoms of shame

Shame is one of the most powerful emotions that we feel. It can cause us to sever relationships, sink into depression, fuel addictions and eating disorders, and even lead to suicide.

“Shame has to do with the negative feeling about ourselves, which can get activated anytime we are frustrated or get challenged,” explains Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick.

“Shame is an existential feeling of unworthiness,” Jessup says. “When people feel shame, they believe that they are ultimately an inadequate person or an unworthy person.”

For many people, shame is an emotion you feel to a varying degree almost every day. Anytime you think you’ve done something wrong, don’t know something, or just feel uncomfortable in a social situation you may be feeling a version of shame.

How Shame Affects Young Adults

It’s also an emotion that is especially potent for young adults, who are in a stage of life where they are constantly learning new things. For example, young adults who are taking a challenging college class, doing an internship, or starting a new job will face many things they don’t know. They may feel shame asking for help, but that is the only way they’ll be able to learn.

“You have to have face-to-face interactions where you’re seeking someone’s assistance and support and asking for help. For many people, that is a recipe for activating shame,” Jessup says.

Plus, young adults are also in a life stage where they are making new friendships and forging new romantic relationships — both of which are ripe for feeling inadequate, insecure or unloveable.

Since feelings of shame are so prevalent in early adulthood, it’s especially important for young adults to learn to identify feelings of shame and know how to deal with them.

What Are the Symptoms of Shame?

Shame is an emotion that can take many forms. Here are some common symptoms of shame:

  • Wanting to Disappear
    Most often, shame causes people to want to bury their heads and disappear — anything to pull out of connection with another person. If you’ve ever wanted to avoid returning a phone call, back out of a date, or call in sick for a job interview, you probably were feeling some amount of shame.
  • Anger
    Another common way people react to shame is by feeling anger. Often it’s easier to blame someone else than to think you may have done something wrong, and the anger helps mitigate your own feelings of shame.For example, when a parent yells at a teenager and the teenager runs to his room and slams the door, the teenager’s anger is really covering up his own feelings of shame.
  • Self-Blame
    Shame can also cause people to heap blame onto themselves. For example, when a teacher corrects you or gives you criticism, if you respond by thinking, “I am such an Why did I even take this class? I should quit,” you are feeling shame.
  • Addiction
    When you’re feeling shame, you may want to use something (alcohol, drugs, food, sex etc.) to give you temporary relief from those negative feelings. However, if those substances get in the way of your life, you may feel ever more shame for using them, causing a vicious cycle.

How to Combat Shame

Ironically, sharing your negative, self-critical thoughts with another person is one of the best ways to combat shame.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work who has studied topics such as shame, vulnerability and worthiness, has been a strong proponent of sharing your vulnerability, essentially admitting your feelings of shame so you can be more connected to others.

For example, if you go on a date and say, “I’m really afraid you’re not going to like me,” the other person will most likely respond to your authenticity and give you a positive affirmation.

That’s why going to individual or group therapy can be immensely helpful in rewriting the shame messages in your head.

“If a client begins to have an experience of the therapist who knows the worst truths about them and is still willing to be in a relationship with them, they can often start to let go of some of their core shame,” Jessup says.

Plus, therapists can help you identify certain situations that tend to provoke feelings of shame in you.

“Therapists can help by providing insight into your shame dynamics,” Jessup says. “Once you track what’s going on inside you, then you have options.”

To learn more about how shame impacts young adults and contributes to self-destructive behaviors, come to our upcoming seminar entitled, “Shame Resilience: Hiding in Plain Sight,” taking place at our Evanston headquarters on Dec. 9.

10 Tips for College Students with ADHD

college students with ADHD

For years, ADHD was thought to affect mainly elementary and high school-aged students. But increasingly, research has shown that ADHD continues to affect students into their college years and beyond.

In fact, a 2010 study published in Psychiatry Research tracked 110 boys with ADHD over a 10-year period and found that 78 percent of them continued to have full or partial ADHD symptoms as young adults. And the National Resource Center on ADHD estimates that 2 to 8 percent of college students suffer from ADHD.

Unlike high school, which is usually a highly structured environment, college tends to feature longer classes, big blocks of unstructured time, and lots of independence — all of which can be especially challenging for students with ADHD who struggle to sit still, plan ahead or make decisions in the moment.

However, that doesn’t mean college is impossible for students with ADHD. By taking some extra steps and getting outside support, students with ADHD can have a rewarding college experience. Here are 10 things that may help:

  1. Choose a College with Good Support Systems
    When researching colleges to attend, look for ones that cater to students with learning disabilities. Search for schools that offer smaller class sizes, interactive learning, alternative majors and other resources. There are also some schools that have programs specifically geared toward students with learning disabilities.
  1. Tell Your Professors
    Once you’re at school, make sure to take advantage of the help that’s offered to you. One of the most important steps is to alert your professors at the beginning of each semester to your disability so they can make accommodations for you, such as giving you more time on tests or letting you listen to audio versions of text books. You can also ask the disabilities office to help communicate with your professors about your needs.
  2. Sit at the Front… or the Back
    Since students with ADHD have a harder time concentrating, some students find it helpful to sit at the front of the classroom to reduce distractions. Other students, however, like to sit in the back of the room so they can stand up to stretch or take a break if they need to.
  3. Avoid Large Lecture Classes
    Sitting in a huge lecture hall and listening for an hour and a half might be especially challenging for a student with ADHD. Instead, when possible, try to take smaller classes that offer interactive learning experiences, such as group projects and discussions.
  4. Join a Study Group
    Studying by yourself can be hard for students with ADHD, who may struggle with comprehending the material and want to give up. Studying with others can keep you motivated and when you don’t understand something, you can ask the other students in your group for help.
  5. Use a Calendar
    Whether you use an old-school calendar or download a planning app for your phone, writing down all of your tasks for the day is key to staying focused. At the beginning of your day, try to plan out what needs to get done so you aren’t forced to have to make decisions on the fly that may overwhelm you.
  6. Take Classes That Interest You
    The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you’ll be able to pay attention and absorb the material, says Lucy Turek, Education and Career Specialist at Yellowbrick. “You’ll be a lot more successful in life if you do something you want to do than if you do something you think you’re supposed to do,” she says.
  7. Take Classes Where You’re Active
    Not all classes in college require sitting in a classroom. Try classes such as dancing, geology, mountain climbing or other courses that get you outside and moving.
  8. Get Enough Sleep and Eat Right
    If you’re not taking care of your body, you can’t function at your best. That’s why maintaining a regular sleep schedule and eating right are so important for thinking clearly. “Having that circadian rhythm, eating the appropriate amount and exercise is all important to maintaining good brain health,” says Dana Bender, an occupational therapist who is also director of Core Competence Services at Yellowbrick.

    Bender also says maintaining good mental health is also key, so seek help if you are depressed, anxious or have other mental health issues.

  9. Stay Positive
    Although having ADHD can make studying and succeeding in college challenging, try not to get discouraged by your disability. “Have a positive viewpoint about college that it’s where you’re able to blossom and become your own person,” says Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “Remind yourself of what your dreams are and don’t give up on them.”

At Yellowbrick, we provide support for college students with ADHD through our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health Services. College students who live within a few miles of our Evanston location can receive in-home visits from staff who can help with time management, educational and career counseling, planning, organizing and executive functioning. Click here for more information on our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health services.

6 Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays

Sober during the holidays

The holidays can be an emotional time for many people, but for those who have recently stopped drinking, navigating the holidays can be especially challenging.

What makes the holidays so appealing to people — catching up with the same relatives and friends and doing the same traditions year after year — is exactly what can make it tough for newly sober people to stay sober.

“Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in the 1930s before we had a lot of neuroscience knowledge, understood that we respond to cues around us,” explains David Baron, Medical Director at Yellowbrick and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Chicago Medical School.

“Addictions have a lot to do with the dopamine reward system,” Baron says, explaining that addicts associate certain people, places and things with drinking, which they associate with feeling good, and that feeling drives their desire to drink.

So if every Thanksgiving meant drinking beer while you watched a football game with your family, just the act of watching the football game can make you want a drink.

“What people are feeling when they anticipate the holidays is because their brains have learned to respond that way, including rewiring circuits so they respond to those external cues,” he says. “Those circuits can be re-wired again in many cases, but it takes sustained sobriety over a period of time, and re-learning new, non-drinking responses to the same cues.”

Luckily, there are ways that people who are newly sober can go back into old situations and manage not to drink. Here are a few tips for how to stay sober (and sane) during the holidays.

  1. Avoid old drinking buddies
    For many young adults, going home for the holidays often means catching up with old high school friends, and if those people were ones you used to drink with, getting together with them now that you’re sober might prove difficult. “It might mean telling friends that you can’t see them if that’s what it takes to stay sober,” Baron says.
  2. Find a list of local meetings
    Before you head home for the holidays, make sure to make a list of all of the 12-step meetings nearby. You can even tell your sponsor which ones you plan to attend to keep yourself accountable. Depending on how you’re feeling, you may need to go to only one or two meetings during your visit, or you may need to go to multiple meetings a day. Many AA meetings make a point of being open on holidays, but some groups do close on Thanksgiving or Christmas, so make sure to call the local number to check which ones will be taking place.
  3. Have an Honest Conversation with Your Family
    Let your family members know what sorts of things may make you want to drink. Let them know that you may need to excuse yourself from certain family events that may trigger you, or that you may need to pass on other activities in order to go to a meeting. Assure them that it’s not hostile, it’s just what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  4. Plan Ahead
    Baron recommends that your talk to your sponsor ahead of time and tell him or her what you’re going to be doing and when.Baron says it’s also smart to create a relapse prevention plan and anticipate what you’re going to do in different circumstances. For example, you can make a plan that if you start to feel angry or upset with your mom, you can tell her assertively what’s bothering you, and if she persists, you can let her know you will have to leave the room to avoid drinking in response to your feelings. If you’re still triggered after a few minutes, you will call your sponsor. And if you do that and you still feel like drinking, you can go to a meeting. Remember, it’s ok to leave a family event if that’s what you need to do to stay sober.
  5. Make Phone Calls
    For many, when you spend time with your family, staying connected to your sponsor and other people in your AA group is crucial. Making calls — if necessary, scheduled ones — to support people and telling them how you’re feeling will go a long way in enabling you to tolerate your family.
  6. Encourage Your Family and Friends to Support You
    If you’re newly sober, the last thing you want is for someone to keep offering you a drink and forcing you repeatedly to make a difficult choice not to drink. To avoid this, you may need to be honest with your family and friends about your sobriety and ask them to support you by not offering you anything to drink.Also, many family members and friends may ask you if it’s ok for them to drink, even if you’re sober. If it is, great. If not, don’t be afraid to tell them you’d rather they abstained too.

The Pros and Cons of Greek Life: Joining a Fraternity or Sorority

college greek life

One of the biggest decisions incoming college students face is whether to join a fraternity or sorority. And, if you’re a student who struggles with learning disabilities, mental health issues or misuse of alcohol or substances, the question about whether joining a fraternity or sorority can be even more complicated.

For example, if you’re a student who is prone to depression and isolation, would “going Greek” ensure a healthy network of friendships and connections, or would the pressure to fit in simply compound your anxiety? If you suffer from a learning disability, would you be able to get help with your schoolwork from your fraternity brothers, or would they make it even harder to concentrate?

At some colleges, the Greek system is enormously influential. Joining a fraternity or sorority can determine who you’re friends with for the next four years, where you live, who you date, and even your career after graduation. But not all fraternities and sororities fit a common stereotype, and the impact of Greek life varies from school to school.

Before making the leap, incoming freshman should consider both the benefits and disadvantages to membership.

First, the good news:

  1. Ease of making friends: Students who suffer from social anxiety or have difficulty connecting with and sustaining friendships may find that joining a fraternity or a sorority is a great way to bond with others and feel a crucial sense of acceptance and belonging.
  2. Leadership training: Every member of a fraternity or sorority is expected to do their part to keep the organization running. Whether they’re working their way up to chapter president or organizing charity fundraisers, members get direct responsibility for projects that teach discipline and follow-through. This can boost your self-esteem, and those accomplishments also look pretty good on a resume.
  3. Academic achievement:Numerous studies have found that college students in the Greek system do better academically and have higher graduation rates than the average college student. That’s not surprising when you consider that fraternities and sororities have built-in accountability systems: older “brothers” and “sisters” are responsible for tracking the academic progress of younger members. Most Greek organizations have minimum GPA requirements for members and offer support such as group study sessions to keep them on track.
  4. Networking:The benefits of Greek life go beyond the college years. Greek alumni organizations are powerful networking organizations, giving recent grads access to mentors in their chosen field. According to research by the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity at Indiana University, the vast majority of U.S. Presidents, senators and Fortune 500 executives were members of Greek organizations in college—proof that those college connections can pay off.
  5. Doing good: Philanthropy is a central tenant of almost every Greek organization, and on many campuses, individual fraternities and sororities are known for the fundraisers they organize each year. The impact of such charity work is impressive; the National Panhellenic Council, an umbrella organization that represents 26 national sororities on more than 670 campuses, estimates that its student and alumnae members raise more than $30 million a year for charity.
  6. Prime housing: Most Greek organizations require members to live in the chapter house at some point during college, and at some colleges, that housing is a considerable step up from the dormitories. This perk, obviously, varies from campus to campus.

Now, some potential pitfalls:

  1. Time Commitment: Greek life, if you are going to get the most out of it, is a serious commitment. Those students who have difficulty with time management, those with learning disabilities that require additional time for studies, or students who want to pursue other interests outside of Greek life should be cautious about the time needed to invest in a fraternity or sorority.
  2. Cost:College costs are already high, and good luck trying to find out exactly how much more you’ll pay to join a fraternity or sorority; most college websites are purposely vague on that subject. The few schools that do publicize such information—including the University of Alabama and Florida State University—estimate fees of $3,500 to $2,300 per semester (including some meals but not housing). The heaviest financial hit comes in the first year of membership, which includes initiation fees. While most fraternities and sororities do offer scholarships and financial aid, going Greek means paying more.
  3. Alcohol abuse:You don’t have to have seen Animal House to know that fraternities have become more associated with drinking games than brotherhood in popular culture. Greek organizations are intended to be social, which means frequent parties and tailgates and other opportunities for drinking to spin out-of-control. And if you’re a student who has experienced binge drinking, blackouts or other problems with alcohol or substances during high school, going Greek may lead to even worse consequences.
  4. Hazing:According to the National Study of Student Hazing, developed by professors Mary Madden and Elizabeth Allan at the University of Maine, more than half of college students who participate in clubs or organizations experience hazing. That figure was even higher (70 percent) for students who join a Greek-letter organization. Though colleges as a whole are making a serious effort to cut down on hazing—and most fraternities and sororities have explicit anti-having policies—students continue to be injured and even die from such abuse, and the negative mental health impact of hazing can last for years afterwards.

Ultimately, the decision to go Greek is a deeply personal one. But it’s one that will be easier to make if you’ve done your homework first.

The dangers of abusing Adderall


Call it a case of unintended consequences. Twenty years ago, the prescription medication Adderall debuted as a treatment for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A stimulant, with amphetamine as its active ingredient, Adderall helped sufferers of narcolepsy stay awake, but it also increased mental focus and endurance for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Because of its effectiveness and usually mild side effects, Adderall quickly became a common treatment for ADHD. But as its popularity increased, use of Adderall also began spreading beyond the people it was intended for. Today, students without ADHD regularly take Adderall as a study aid, in order to work longer and later than they would be able to otherwise. In 2009, 5 percent of American high school students were using Adderall for non-medical reasons, according to a University of Michigan Study—a rate that increased to 7 percent in 2013. A recent review of multiple studies published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine estimated that up to 10 percent of high school students and 5 to 35 percent of college students are misusing stimulants.

There’s no question that Adderall (along with related stimulants such as Ritalin) can be enormously helpful for young adults with ADHD, who might otherwise feel overwhelmed by the demands of schoolwork or a first job.

“For those who have documented ADHD and no history of substance abuse, Adderall can be extremely helpful in sustaining attention, following through on tasks, and other executive functioning skills required for learning,” says Dr. David Baron, Medical Director at Yellowbrick and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Chicago Medical School.

But because Adderall directly affects the brain’s dopamine level, it can also become habit-forming, especially when it’s taken on an ad hoc, “as needed” basis, and it can be dangerous. “Taken in too-large doses, it has potentially dangerous or even lethal side effects, including hallucinations, other psychotic symptoms, strokes or heart attacks,” Baron says.

Even students who take the drug at relatively low doses are still at risk for common side effects such as loss of appetite and sleeplessness—both of which can ultimately affect their schoolwork and everyday functioning.

Researchers at the University of Michigan study have also found a link between misuse of stimulants and later substance abuse. According to a recent study of more than 40,000 individuals, children who began taking stimulant medications for ADHD in elementary school were at no greater risk for later substance abuse than the general population. But young people who began taking unprescribed ADHD medications in middle or high school—when it was easier to obtain the drugs without a medical diagnosis—were significantly more likely to abuse other drugs or alcohol in the future.

To control “recreational” Adderall use, Baron says doctors need better ways of determining exactly who has ADHD—and therefore who will benefit medically from a prescription. “Diagnosing ADHD can be complicated and at times confusing, both to patient and prescriber,” he says. Symptoms that may seem like ADHD may not be, and people who don’t experience the classic symptom of hyperactivity may still have ADHD but never be diagnosed.

“Adderall is probably both overprescribed—for those who report trouble concentrating and don’t have ADHD—and under-prescribed, for the many people whose symptoms of ADHD are either unrecognized or unreported,” he says.

As the tools for diagnosing ADHD become more sophisticated, it may become easier to determine who will truly benefit from taking Adderall. That will mean fewer prescriptions obtained by fraudulent means and less Adderall available for sale at schools. “The psychiatric profession and primary-care physicians have increasing opportunities to become more adept at differentiating actual indications for Adderall and other stimulant medications, which may increase their appropriate use,” Baron says.

Parents and educators can also help by addressing the underlying reasons students who don’t have ADHD take Adderall. Many overworked, overachieving students think the only way they can keep up is to pop a pill. Teaching better study habits, keeping workloads manageable and setting reasonable expectations are all important ways to support students who might otherwise think Adderall is the only answer.

Incoming Freshman: How to Start College Off Right

Incoming Freshman


Starting college is one of life’s major milestones. For many students, it’s the first time they’ll be living away from home, the first time they’ll be responsible for decisions about what to study and their daily routine. So it’s no wonder that the summer leading up to college is filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. What if my classes are too hard? What if I have no friends?

It’s crucial that freshmen get the support they need to make this transition smoothly, otherwise they’re at high risk of dropping out. According to Department of Education, only about 40 percent of full-time students graduate from college in four years. The National Student Clearinghouse, a higher-education nonprofit, found that nearly 25 percent of full-time college students end up leaving school without completing their degree, and the dropout rate is even worse for part-time students. Six years after enrolling, only about 30 percent have graduated or continue to take classes.

Starting College Off Right

So how do you start off college right? By acknowledging the challenges ahead and finding out where to go for help when you need it.

“Probably the number one concern of new college students is entering an unfamiliar social environment,” says Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick. “For most students, leaving home means trading a friendly and familiar social environment for an unfamiliar one, in which the vital experience of belonging is something that needs to be created anew, from scratch.”

Common worries among new students include:

  • Anxiety about getting along with roommates
  • Making new friends
  • Keeping up with the academic workload
  • Campus logistics (what if I get lost on the first day of class?)

Students can and should be reassured that there are things they can do to address all these potential problems. “It helps to identify ahead of time who, what, and where you can go to for help,” Jessup says.

Resident advisors in the dorms are trained to address roommate conflicts, and can even help arrange a room switch if necessary. Researching campus clubs and activities can steer a new student toward others with similar interests.

Focus on Time Management
And even before arriving on campus, students should be thinking about how they’ll stay organized.

“College presents significant challenges in time management,” Jessup says. Whether it’s an app on your phone or a paper planner, Jessup says freshman need to make sure they have the tools they’ll need to keep track of class times and meetings, administrative tasks, and deadlines.
Set Realistic Goals for Freshman Year

Today’s college students are under pressures their own parents may not recognize or understand. “Young people today are expected to ‘hit the ground running’ in order to launch a successful adulthood,” he says. “I hear more anxiety expressed these days about picking the right major, about strategic planning for graduate or professional school, about making sure that you’re doing all you can to justify the enormous expense of college.”

To counteract these relentless expectations, both students and their parents should be realistic about the goals for freshman year.

“I think it’s helpful for parents to endorse the idea that the first term—if not the entire first year of college—is going to be all about adjusting to living away from home, meeting new people and navigating a complex new environment,” Jessup says. “It should be a time for curiosity, for intellectual exploration and for tolerating ambiguity, uncertainty and novelty.”
Maintain a Connection with Family

That’s not to say students should be sent off to figure it all out themselves. Jessup says the students who adjust best to college life are those who have a good support system at home, as well as a good road map for where to seek help on campus. Students should leave home knowing how often they’re expected to check in with family, what kind of financial support they’ll be receiving, and how often they’ll be coming home for visits during the school year.

“Maintaining supportive connections with family and friends from home can help students feel grounded and self-aware as they navigate new territory,” Jessup says.
Additional Support: Campus Competence

For students who need more intensive, hands-on support, Yellowbrick’s new Campus Competence program is designed to assist young adults with learning disabilities or mental health challenges adjust to college life. A sober residential community located two blocks from the Northwestern University campus, it offers individual career and academic counseling, an on-staff occupational therapist to help students stay organized, and group sessions with experienced Yellowbrick professionals. For more information, visit:

What You Need to Know About Parenting a Transgender Child

Finding out that you have a transgender child or one who is exploring gender identity can be a jarring moment for most parents. It’s not news that parents are typically prepared to handle, even if they’re supportive when they receive word. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind if your child shares that they are transgender.

Continue reading What You Need to Know About Parenting a Transgender Child

What to Do When Your Son or Daughter Wants to Drop Out of College

Dropping out of college

College isn’t just about academics—it’s also a life stage that allows teens to transition into life as independent adults. When a student decides to drop out of college, the decision is often difficult for parents to accept. How will leaving school affect their child’s future? What can they do to help?

Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick, says most students don’t have a single, easy-to-identify reason for wanting to drop out of college. “It’s usually the result of a cascade of failures, stresses and difficulties,” he says.

Those difficulties can include:

  • Trouble balancing schoolwork with daily life: “This can occur at any time during the first year, but often doesn’t fully emerge until the second semester,” Jessup says. “A crucial factor is overtaxed executive functioning—planning, organizing, scheduling—without sufficient emotional support and structure.”
  • Emotional and cognitive vulnerabilities: A student with learning disabilities or a tendency to suffer from depression or anxiety may have had enough help in high school and at home to succeed academically. “But once they leave home, these vulnerabilities can emerge and then snowball,” Jessup says.
  • Substance and alcohol abuse: The binge drinking prevalent on many college campuses can take on a life of its own, derailing academic functioning.
  • Trouble at home: “Any of the above can be precipitated by family disruptions or upheavals that draw vulnerable young adults back into caretaking roles in the family,” Jessup says.

Parents who have invested years of attention and resources to launch their child off to college often push back against the decision to drop out.

“Hopes and expectations have generally peaked at the same time that a child’s struggles begin to emerge, making it hard to appreciate—let alone accept—the full extent of the difficulties,” Jessup says.

College-age students who want to maintain a sense of independence can also be vague about their reasons for wanting to drop out of college. “It’s important to remember that there may be more to the story than what you first hear from your son or daughter,” Jessup says.

What can parents do after a student moves back home?

“A critical first step is to determine all of the contributing factors that resulted in the student’s failure to meet the demands of that particular college environment,” Jessup says. That means having honest conversations about what happened, why it happened, and what goals should be set for the next month, six months and year. During this time of transition, parents can suggest a number of options, whether it’s entering a substance-abuse program, getting a job, or taking courses at a local community college. The important thing is to decide what happens next together.

Starting this September, Yellowbrick will be opening a new residence program called Campus Competence, where young adults who previously may have dropped out of college completely now can return to school with additional support. Students will receive academic counseling, executive functioning coaching and more to help them learn how to successfully manage stress and make the most out of their college experience. Find out more about Campus Competence.