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I’m going to start this post with the same introduction as a previous post, The transition from high school to college can be tough. The word transition is deceiving, however. It implies that there is an easing into a new situation. For a college student, the change is abrupt and instant; just about everything is different or new. Some are away from home for the first time, many have never shared a room with a sibling, let alone a stranger, the schoolwork is harder and there’s more of it, there’s lots of new people to figure out and relationships to form, and probably for the first time, they are completely responsible for themselves.[From: 5 Things Not to Do When Your Homesick College Student Calls]
How to identify homesickness
Homesickness is a longing for home, for familiarity, for routine. It’s missing a soft place to land, a safe space to be themselves, and people who understand them without having to say a word. These feelings are completely normal and a reasonable expectation transitioning to college life. Homesickness can be identified with some common factors. With homesickness, your child should bounce back after talking with missed loved ones, a visit home, or a visit from family. Homesickness is also not a constant sadness but a sadness that is interrupted with good days and good experiences. Homesickness is also not exclusive to freshman year; it can come and go throughout their time in college.
Everyone will feel depressed at some point (or many points) in their lives. But, now we are talking about sadness that is much more than missing home or having a bad day. It is important to be able to identify the difference between depression and homesickness. Depression is a prolonged sadness that usually lasts longer than two weeks and can range from mild to extreme. According to Childmind.org, watch for these signs of depression:
Detecting depression in college students who are away from home can be difficult. Some depression symptoms, like uncharacteristic sadness and crying, are straightforward, but others, like trouble concentrating and irritability, are less so. People with depression also tend to isolate themselves and take less pleasure in things they used to enjoy, so if you hear that your child is spending too much time alone in his dorm room or quitting the things that used to make him happy, he might be depressed.
There are many factors that can contribute to depression in college students. These can include: trouble in, or the end of a romantic relationships, stresses of adjusting to a new environment, conflicts with roommates or other relationships, pressures related to schoolwork and deadlines, use of alcohol and drugs, and being overwhelmed by their new responsibilities. Factors that shouldn’t be overlooked as causes of depression are lack of sleep, irregular sleeping habits, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition. Sound like a college student you know?
So, what can you do if you think your college student is depressed?
Because depression is a prevalent issue on college campuses today, there are many resources for your student to turn to. Most colleges have a counseling center and they are experienced at dealing with these exact issues. If your student isn’t seeking help on their own, you may want to research what is available to them on campus and provide them with information on how to get connected to help. Their college health center or a physician is another place to turn as there are many medications available to treat depression and anxiety which can be prescribed by a medical professional.
If you think your child is just mildly depressed, suggestions about their sleep habits and a recommendation to get some fresh air and exercise is a good place to start. Nutrition is also a good discussion. What they are choosing in the dining hall or eating through take-out might be far less than a well-rounded diet. I know many parents who send their students more nutritious groceries to supplement their diets. AmazonFresh is a program through Amazon (obviously) that will deliver fresh groceries to your address. They don’t service all areas so you would need to see if your student is within their delivery zone. Also, you can buy groceries on Walmart, pay for them, and they’ll be loaded right into your student’s car when they pull up – and click here for $10 off your order!
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America makes the following recommendations for parents:
- Be an active listener. Lend an open ear when you child is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Listen to what he or she says, as well as to what isn’t said. (Is there any mention of friends or social activities?). Respect his or her feelings even if you don’t understand exactly them. This will encourage your child to start talking, which can serve as a source of comfort when feeling overwhelmed.
- Educate yourself. Knowing the difference between everyday stress and anxiety disorder can help you learn what to listen and look for.
- Encourage participation in extracurricular activities. These can help to relieve stress, help your child make new friends, and build self-esteem.
- Explore opportunities for seeking help. Investigate mental health and other treatment options available on campus and in the local community. Call the counseling center to inquire about individual or group counseling sessions, support groups, referrals to off-campus centers, and payment issues for the use of these resources. (Many schools offer them free or at a reduced cost). If your child is still on your health insurance, find out if mental health care is covered.
- Share what you find with your child. Once you’ve accumulated information about getting help, pass it along. Having the information available will give your child the option to get help when he or she needs it or feels ready.
- Be patient if your child doesn’t seek help right away. It may take a while for your child to seek professional help. It’s important especially for young adults to feel that getting treatment is their own decision.
Steingard, Ron. “Teen Depression Symptoms | Signs Your Child Is Depressed.” Child Mind Institute, Childmindinstitute.org, childmind.org/article/what-are-the-symptoms-of-depression-in-teenagers/.
Tartakovsky, M. (2016). Depression and Anxiety Among College Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 11, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-and-anxiety-among-college-students/
Thieda, Kate. “Is Your College Student Homesick… Or Depressed?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Nov. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/partnering-in-mental-health/201411/is-your-college-student-homesick-or-depressed.
“College Students.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, Adaa.org, adaa.org/finding-help/helping-others/college-students.