College Stress: What Parents Should Know About Student Depression

College students are usually under a lot of stress. They face overwhelming challenges, pressures, and anxieties. This is pretty common especially for those college-bound kids transitioning from high school to college. They need ample time to adapt to their new environment and changing schedules. They might feel homesick at times as they adjust to having roommates, making new friends, and trying to belong to a group.

Dealing with all these changes in addition to the pressure of juggling academic workload is the main stressors that can cause depression. According to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, the rate of students diagnosed with depression is increasing. There were 22,000 students questioned at 48 schools and the result of the survey showed 36% of the students had difficulty functioning in school because they were so depressed.

Anxiety disorders and depression can impede academic performance. Parents whose child already battled depression or has a family history of the disorder should be keener on looking for early warning signs to help their child cope up. Although depression is more common in females due to hormonal makeup, stress is a reoccurring factor that triggers the disorder especially for those who were diagnosed or has a history.

What are the signs that you should look out for?

It is normal for college students to feel anxious, pressures, and sad at times because these emotions pass within a day or two. Depression is different. It affects how one feels, the way of thinking, and behaviors that often lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Some signs that a student is dealing with college depression include:

  • Negative emotions such as hopelessness, emptiness, and prolonged sadness
  • Irritability, frustration, and outbursts over little things
  • Sleep deprivation or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interests in doing normal routine, activities, and hobbies
  • Feeling lethargic and feeling the need to exert extra effort in doing menial tasks
  • Like changes in sleeping patterns, a change in appetite is also a sign of depression. Either the student eats less or eats more to relieve stress.
  • Forgetfulness and trouble in concentrating and making decisions
  • Sluggish body movements and slowed thinking and speaking
  • Restlessness, agitation, and anxiety
  • Fixating on failures that lead to blaming oneself, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and taking accountability for things they are not responsible for
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts and frequent mentioning of any thoughts about death
  • Unexplained physical pain such as headaches and back pains.

These are some of the obvious signs of depression that parents should look out for. However, there are also signs that are not as obvious such as poor academic performance, diminishing skills, and engaging in activities outside of school including risky sexual behaviors and alcohol or substance abuse as a form of escapism. These may be more difficult for parents to notice, especially if their child lives far away from home. College students also have the tendency to keep it to themselves and not seek out help for depression or get academic help by using service like out of fear of not fitting in or embarrassment.

This is also why depression should not be underestimated and left untreated. More than serious health problems, it is also a gateway for more serious and irreversible problems that can last a lifetime.

How can you help your child cope with depression in college?

College depression is pretty common, and with some planning, parents can help their children get the best out of their college experience as much as possible and deal with depression.

  • Manage and set expectations

For college-bound students, it is crucial for parents to not only talk about their child’s goals but also to discuss the problems that they may encounter in college. This can help them visualize what their college life would be like so they can better prepare their own strategies in handling pressure and difficult situations.

It is best that you also encourage your child to keep their communications open and to not be afraid to seek help when things get hard and overwhelming. They must understand that seeking for counsel to get through a tough time or a period of depression is not a sign of weakness.

  • Keep an eye out for any changes

This can be tricky because although parents should let their adolescent child be independent, they should still keep an eye out for any behavioral changes that signal depression especially for those who are starting their freshmen year in college.  It is also especially hard for parents whose child is living far away from home.

Listen closely to what your child says on the phone or what he or she posts on social media. It is crucial for parents to pay attention in the way their child is responding, acting or interacting with others. Significant changes can be a sign that something is wrong.

  • Remind your child to care for himself or herself

Urge your child to eat healthily, get enough sleep, exercise often, and drink alcohol in moderation. Getting invited and attending college parties are part of the experience, and alcohol consumption is inevitable. But drinking with newfound friends and future colleagues is fun when done occasionally and in moderation. Alcohol and substance abuse is a poor way to cope with depression, and using stimulants to stay up at night to study lead to mood changes and can do more harm than good.

Anxiety disorders are also fueled by sleep deprivation. There is a better chance for a child to battle depression and anxiety if he or she is getting enough sleep and exercise. Exercise is not only good for the body, it also brings about good benefits to the brain. This can help your child perform better in academics and extracurricular activities. Being healthy is also good for the self-esteem and self-confidence because it makes them feel good about themselves.

  • Encourage them to seek support

Spending time with supportive family members and friends can help them navigate the challenges they face in college. They can also seek out support groups in school to motivate them and to let them feel that they are alone. Encourage them to seek out support when they need it and remind them that they do not have to feel ashamed.

  • Create a plan to manage and thrive

IF your child has been diagnosed with depression, what you can do is to reach out to the school’s counseling department and create a plan to help your child successfully manage depression and thrive in a campus environment.

How can you prevent college depression?

College is the start of real independence for kids and there is no sure way to avoid college depression. What you can do is to create a healthy space for your kids where you can discuss emotional wellness and mental health. Helping your child to be accustomed to his or her new environment before the class starts can help ease the overwhelming feeling of the transition.

Know when and how to intervene when you notice the signs. Remember that getting treatment at the earliest signs of the problem can help your child overcome the disorder and succeed in college.