Book Review: College of the Overwhelmed

Kay Kimball Gruder

by Kay Kimball Gruder
Author, Successful College Parenting Newsletter
M.Ed., Lesley College (1987); Susan Vogt Leadership Fellow (2007)
PCI Certified Parent Coach® (2005).

College of the Overwhelmed: The campus mental health crisis and what to do about it
Richard Kadison, M.D. and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo.
Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, 2004.
296 pages

College of the Overwhelmed is a must read for parents of students who are soon to be entering or who are already attending college. We send our children off to college and ultimately wish for them to be happy and to gain new skills, knowledge, and perspectives, but college is not always a happy time. "What parents don't realize is that despite this appearance of comfortable status, secure environment, and pleasant social world, a multitude of hidden problems have caused a steady and alarming rise in the severity of students' mental health problems across the nation in colleges and universities large and small, public and private." (p.5)

College of the Overwhelmed identifies normal developmental issues that occur during college and gives heart-felt examples of students who faced a range of dilemmas and worked through them in various ways. The book also identifies many of the stressors encountered in college. "…the journey can be fraught with the developmental pressures of fitting in, getting along with roommates, exploring sexuality, and addressing the myriad of questions that come with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. And as if that weren't enough to handle, the pressure-cooker atmosphere on campus is intensified by academic, extracurricular, parental, and racial and cultural pressures." (p.35)

While colleges are recommending that parents read books about "letting go," it is my opinion, with over 22 years as a student advisor in higher education, that this is the book that parents should read first. The authors inform parents about what colleges are doing to create strong services and resources for students, and it offers parents advice on how to effectively guide their student through enhanced communication, anticipating challenges and being aware of the warning signs of mental health and medical concerns. "Consider that the goal of communication with young adults changes when they are in college. Instead of communicating solely to tell your child what to do, now it's helpful to use your conversations to strengthen your connections." (p.186) College of the Overwhelmed, while an alarming title, offers parents, students, and college administrators tips and strategies to work through both common and less common situations that arise by the very nature of having young adults living away from home. After reading College of the Overwhelmed you will likely feel more knowledgeable and better prepared to support and parent your student through the many physical, emotional, academic, and mental demands that he or she will encounter during college.

Kay Kimball Gruder,

Kay has over 22 years of experience in education and a deep knowledge of student development in the teen through early adult years. Kay provides parent coaching to parents seeking help as they parent their pre-college or college student, and provides parent relations consulting and parent programming to schools and colleges, as they partner with parents to prepare and guide students to make the most of the pre-college and college years. You can reach Kay at (508) 816-6287 or

Copyright © 2009 Kay Kimball Gruder, all rights reserved. Used with permission.