College depression: What parents need to know
Helping your child make the emotional transition to college can be a major undertaking. Know how to identify whether your child is having trouble dealing with this new stage of life — and what you can do to help.
What is college depression and why are college students vulnerable to it?
Depression is an illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. College depression isn’t a clinical diagnosis. Instead, college depression is depression that begins during college.
College students face many challenges, pressures and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed. They might be living on their own for the first time and feeling homesick. They’re also likely adapting to a new schedule and workload, adjusting to life with roommates, and figuring out how to belong. Money and intimate relationships can also serve as major sources of stress. Dealing with these changes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood can trigger or unmask depression during college in some young adults.
What are the impacts of college depression?
Depression during college has been linked to:
Impaired academic performance
Risky behaviors related to alcohol abuse, such as having unsafe sex
What are the signs that a student is dealing with college depression?
Many college students occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions pass within a few days. Untreated depression persists and interferes with normal activities.
Signs and symptoms that a student might be experiencing depression during college include:
Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
Insomnia or excessive sleeping
Changes in appetite or weight
Agitation or restlessness
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixation on past failures, or self-blame when things aren’t going right
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
Crying spells for no apparent reason
Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
How can I help my child cope with depression during college?
In addition to seeking treatment, your child can take steps to feel better. For example, encourage your student to:
Take it one step at a time. Encourage your child to avoid making major decisions, such as changing majors, or doing too many things at once. Instead, break up large tasks into small ones.
Participate in activities. Urge your child to get involved in activities that he or she enjoys, which might help diminish or shift focus away from his or her negative feelings. Physical activity can be particularly helpful.
Seek support. Encourage your child to get to know people in his or her dorm and classes. Friends can help your child feel more comfortable in a new environment. Family can be a great source of support, too.