College depression: the warning signs you need to know
Remember that feeling the first day you dropped your child off at kindergarten? You probably experienced similar emotions when you sent him or her off to college, too. It’s a rite of passage that each parent must face; letting go of the reins and realizing your child is, well … no longer a child.
But, unlike elementary school, your college student may not be coming home at the end of each day. In most cases, he or she will be living away from home, which can make it difficult for you to notice small changes in behavior or mood.
Each year, more than 1,000 college students die by suicide, making it the third-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 24. According to a study conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA), 86 percent of students feel overwhelmed at college at some point during the course of a school year. Another 45 percent feel hopeless and 57 percent feel like they are alone. Nearly 30 percent of all college students are so depressed that they actually find it difficult to function. Unfortunately, many of these students feel embarrassed or ashamed about their feelings, so they rarely seek help even when it’s readily available.
What can you do to ensure your child doesn't become part of these statistics? Be on the lookout for these common signs of depression in college:
- No interest in activities he or she once enjoyed
- Problems concentrating or making decisions
- Slipping grades
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia or sleeping too much)
- Extreme shifts in appetite (losing too much or gaining too much weight)
- Frequent headaches or stomach problems
- Angry outbursts or crying spells for no apparent reason
- Fixation on past failuressss
It may not be easy to spot these changes, especially if your child attends college away from home. That’s why it is so important for you to communicate with your child on a frequent basis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how he or she is feeling, and listen for subtle clues that your child may be depressed. Let your child know that you are available and would like to help. You may be tempted to assuage the situation by telling your child that everything will “work itself out” or “things will look better tomorrow,” but this may not help your child seek the resources he or she may need.
Instead, encourage him or her to seek help through campus resources, such as the student health center or the student counseling center. If your child mentions suicide, do not ignore it. Call the college’s crisis hotline, or ULifeline (1-800-273-8255) for immediate help. There’s no sure way to ensure your child won’t become depressed at college, but you can do some things to minimize the stress and anxiety your child will experience during this transition period.
First, try to schedule specific dates to communicate with your child, either weekly or bi-monthly. Next, plan a few trips throughout the school year (parents' weekend, holidays, etc.) for your child to look forward to. You could also send a monthly care package with his or her favorite things for a quick pick-me-up, especially around mid-terms and final exams. And finally, educate yourself about the symptoms and causes of depression. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to help your child.