Heading off to college and entering adulthood should be one of the most exciting and rewarding times for young adults. But for many students, the huge lifestyle changes it brings can be overwhelming and lead to depression and other mental health problems.
Whether you’re a parent or a fellow student, here’s how you can spot signs of depression in a college student and what you can do to help.
“College depression” is a term used to describe depression in college students. It’s not a specific medical condition, but due to college being the reason for the depression, it has its own term.
It’s more than just feeling lonely, missing family, or being down. The symptoms and health risks are the same as normal depression and it needs the same treatments.
Why College Students Are at Risk of Depression
Starting college comes with a lot of pressures, challenges, anxieties, and unknowns. All of these feelings can cause students to feel overwhelmed.
From the beginning, a lot of students feel homesick. They miss having their support network of friends and family around and being in a new place can be daunting. Then there’s the challenges of college life and supporting themselves.
Any number of these changes and challenges can trigger depression. Without spotting the signs early and getting them the proper care, the symptoms will worsen and have a detrimental effect on their health.
How to Recognize Depression in College Students
It’s not uncommon for students to go through a settling-in phase when starting college. During this period, they may be homesick, sad, and anxious.
Depression is very different. If they are suffering from depression, these feelings will not pass. They will worsen over time. Clinical depression changes the chemical balance in the brain. A person suffering from depression will start to think and behave differently and will require medical help to get over it.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of depression to look out for in college students:
● Anxiety and being withdrawn from social situations
● Poor academic performance
● Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
● Changes in appetite and/or dramatic weight loss/gain
● Physical aches and pains, headaches
● Negative thoughts
● Talking about harming themselves, suicidal thoughts
● Difficulty sleeping, fatigue
● Loss of interest in daily activities.
Can You Prevent College Depression?
It’s hard to prevent college depression, but if you have a child starting college, there are some things you can do to help the translation go smoother.
The number one way to help is to keep in constant communication. It’s a balancing act; you don’t want to come across as “smothering” your child going away to college. However, you want them to be able to talk to you about anything, at any time of day or night.
Find out if the college has counselors dedicated to helping new students and dealing with depression. If so, make your child aware of how to contact them should they need to.
How to Help Your Child at College If They Are Depressed
There is only so much you can do to prevent depression. If your child is away at college and you spot the signs that they are depressed, you have to step in and do something to help.
There are a few things you can do to help them:
Encourage them to get professional help – The first step is to get professional medical help. This is often the toughest step for someone suffering from depression, but it’s the most important. Go with them to the doctor if it helps them.
Take some of their stresses off their hands – Have them identify all the things that are causing them stress and anxiety and see what you can take off their hands for them. This might mean helping them around their home, driving them around, or just being with them more.
Make sure they’re taking care of themselves – When people are depressed, they often start neglecting their health and well-being. This leads to more problems, and the downward spiral of depression gets worse.
You will need to be that person nagging them to eat well, go to bed on time, and so forth. But it’s important they take care of their health while going through the steps outlined by their doctor to beat the depression.