Across America, parents and students are experiencing the first year of college.
For many young people, heading off to college means freedom and independence, learning to fend and (sometimes) cook for themselves, and navigating relationships with roommates and new friends.
While this can be an exciting time, college can present some of the most challenging adjustments of students’ lives. College freshmen often miss family and friends, their own bed, and home-cooked meals.
Many college freshmen who are on their own for the first time can experience homesickness. That’s normal. In fact, the largest survey of college freshmen showed that 66% of first-year students report feeling lonely or homesick. What’s not normal is when those feelings take over and turn into depression.
Depression and College
Depression is usually associated with a longer-term experience of low mood or sadness – at least two weeks or more.
Signs of depression in a college student can include social withdrawal, increased alcohol and drug use, skipping classes frequently, and feeling irritable and angry. Additionally, while college often brings a change in sleeping habits, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much can signal a deeper issue. Frequent, intense, and uncontrollable anxiety may also come into play.
If your freshman is demonstrating signs of depression, they are not alone. According to American College Health Assessment research, nearly 1 in 5 university students are struggling with anxiety or depression.
The Difference Between Depression and Being Homesick
How is a parent to know if their child is experiencing routine homesickness or if the behavior they are exhibiting could point to depression? Here are three possible ways:
- Students with homesickness are still active, alert, and involved in activities.
- Students who are homesick may miss their family and friends but will feel much better after connecting with those they miss.
- Homesickness can be remedied by going home for a visit.
If your student doesn’t bounce back after a quick visit, then your student may be depressed.
Dealing with Depression: 101
Once you have determined that your student is not just homesick, it’s important they know that depression and anxiety disorders can be treatable. Catching symptoms early increases the chances of successful treatment.
Kate Thieda, a licensed professional counselor associate, national certified counselor, and psychotherapist in Durham, North Carolina, shares tips for dealing with mental health issues in college students on Psychology Today’s blog. Here are a few:
“Normalize your student’s experience. Struggling in college is not uncommon. Let them know help is available and they can feel better.
Listen to what your student is willing to share, and be patient if they deny that anything is wrong. Leave the door open to discuss it at a later time.
Encourage your student to see a professional. Most college campuses have a student counseling center, where sessions are low-cost or free. Your student might benefit from an assessment by a counselor to determine whether talk therapy, medication, or other resources can help.”
To learn more about students and depression, visit our blog post https://genesight.com/what-students-and-parents-need-to-know-about-depression-2/.