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Back to School: Identifying Signs of Depression and Anxiety in College Students

depression signs college_fb sizedCollege can be a difficult and emotional transition for young adults. It’s a new social scene, there’s high academic pressure, and for many, it’s the first time away from home. Increased emotions of starting college typically pass within a few days or a couple of weeks. Often, students simply need time to find their new groove and adjust to their roommates or new independence before they’re no longer homesick or anxious. Feelings of anxiety and sadness are normal, but sometimes life changes can trigger or reveal a serious mental illness. How can you tell the difference?

Signs and symptoms of depression might be difficult to notice if your child is no longer living with you. Check in, find out what’s happening at school, ask how he or she feels, and listen. If you suspect your child is seriously depressed, know that he or she is not alone. According to the 2011 American College Health Association Survey, 30 percent of college men and women felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.

Symptoms of depression or severe anxiety do not often get better – and can get worse – if they’re not treated.  Untreated depression interferes with day to day life, which is another sign that your child’s feelings are serious. Does he or she:

  • Sleep too much or have trouble sleeping at all?
  • No longer have interest in activities they used to enjoy?
  • Get easily irritated or angry?
  • Cry for seemingly no reason?
  • Engage in unhealthy habits, such as smoking and/or drinking?

While encouraged to see a doctor, college students often have difficulty seeking help for depression due to embarrassment or fear of not fitting in. In addition to professional treatment for depression, other options exist where students can help themselves.  They can privately explore online resources for help which include the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), nami.org,  and the National Institute of Mental Health  (NIMH), nimh.nih.gov.  A great number of books can provide some support and guidance as well including “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, MD.

Once aware of the illness, students can work on coping with the things that cause overwhelming stress. Practices like breaking large projects into smaller tasks helps relieve some burden. An individual’s lifestyle is directly related to emotional health, so it’s critical to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Do you know a college student who needs help overcoming depression? Make sure, you encourage them to get help.  Many schools offer mental health services and counseling centers to students for free or very low-cost.  Research what is available for them proactively.

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