For many young people, their college years are some of the most fun and rewarding days of their lives. For some however, the adjustment to leaving home and the pressures of higher learning may contribute to the development of a major depressive episode. Depression in college students has been on the rise in recent years, so preparing a young person for the demands of going off to school has become much more important.
Part of the reason for the increase in the reports of college students battling depression is the increased depression awareness campaigns and the efforts of colleges and universities in addressing and increasing their student counseling programs. A higher percentage of students are reaching out for help when they are feeling overwhelmed. Even with greater awareness, the stigma attached to depression still persists for a lot of young people and may prevent them from getting the help that they need. Knowing the symptoms of depression, the treatment options while at school and making sure young students know where to go for help can go a long way to helping college bound kids handle any hardships they might encounter. There are also some useful tips to avoid mild forms of depression that you fall victim to.
Symptoms of Depression in College Students
University and college students may suffer or exhibit any of the usual signs of depression, these may include:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and social interactions, isolation
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Drop in grades, increase in absence from class
- Insomnia, restlessness or wanting to stay in bed all day
- Loss of appetite, weight loss or increase of appetite and weight gain
- Increase in physical aches and complaints
- Inability to think clearly or inability to concentrate, decrease in memory function
- Agitation, frustration and increase in anger or hostility
- Loss of interest in activities or sex
- Increase in unusually dangerous activities, alcohol and drug abuse, dangerous driving habits, unprotected promiscuous sexual encounters
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Any of these symptoms that last for more than two weeks and negatively impact someone’s everyday life and activities should be cause for concern. A combination of any of these symptoms that last for more than two weeks and seeking help is something that would be recommended.
As with any form of major depression, suicide is always a risk if the condition is left untreated. Anyone in immediate crisis, with thoughts of hurting themselves or others, should call or visit their local emergency medical center right away.
Causes for Depression in College Students
While the exact cause of depression is not known, there are believed to be many factors that can contribute to an individual developing this form of mental illness. College students may have added risk factors that may increase their chances of having a major depressive episode. Some possible causes and risk factors students and parents should be aware of may include the following:
Change in living situation: Often a major stresser for the general population, a drastic change in living situations can have an effect on someone’s mental and emotional well being. For young adults the transition from being under the same roof with parental figures, rules, and comfortable, familiar surroundings to all of a sudden being out on your own, with no rules, and nothing that may seem familiar is a lot for some to handle. It is not uncommon to see signs of being homesick initially. For someone more prone to depression, these feelings can lead to something that last longer and becomes more intense.
Pressures: Going off to college also comes with its fair share of pressures. Pressure to succeed in school, possible financial pressures and social pressures. College can be quite expensive and most students have to rely on their parents, scholarships, grants or student loans to attend school. The responsibility to perform well to please their parents or to maintain their financial aid can weigh heavy on the minds of some students. Add to that the social dynamic of going to a new school, with strange new people and trying to fit in and make new friends, and it may all be quite overwhelming. This can be an extremely stressful time for students, especially freshman, and this increase in stress and anxiety can play a major role in depression development.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse: While substance abuse may be a symptom of depression, it may also be a contributor to depression. Alcohol and some drugs have depressive attributes that may either make someone’s depressive episode worse or it may play a role in depression development in someone who is more prone to the illness. College is often a time of experimentation for some young people and dealing with stress and the pressures with alcohol and drugs often makes any depressive feelings a lot worse. Self medicating to deal with emotional pain can have dire consequences.
Family History: A person with a family history of mental illness is usually at greater risk for developing the same sort of disorders.
Medication Side Effects: Certain prescription drugs may have depression as one of the side effects. Some steroids, antibiotics, sleep aids and blood pressure medication may adversely affect a person’s mood and intensify depressive feelings.
Abuse and Trauma: Mental, sexual or physical abuse sufferers often battle with depression especially if experienced at a very young age.
These are just some of the factors that can play a role in a person having to deal with depression. Most mental disorders tend to make their first appearance between the ages of 18 to 25, so college students need to be extra careful concerning their mental well being.
Treatment for Depression
Treatment for most types of depression generally includes either antidepressants, psychotherapy or some combination of both. After a complete diagnosis by a trained mental health professional, these forms of treatment have an 80% success rate.
Over the years colleges and universities have come to realize the seriousness of depression and the dangers it poses to their student bodies. Efforts to increase and make available counseling to students in trouble have made getting help for depression a lot easier on campuses. While some may be understaffed and there might even be a waiting list to get help, it is a good starting point for students in need.
Tips For Parents
Most parents are usually worried sick if and when their child leaves the house and heads off to college, especially if is a long distance from home. There are a few steps parents can take to help prepare the kids for what may lie ahead.
Communication: Even though talking to their parents is not usually the most fun activity for young adults, sitting them down and talking to them before they leave for school can be extremely beneficial. Let them know what they can expect, the pressures, the adjustments to living on their own and most importantly let them know that asking for help is alright. Depression, unfortunately, still carries around a stigma that only weak minded people or those with character flaws suffer from it. This attitude towards depression often times keeps those suffering with the illness from reaching out for help. Make sure that they know that no matter how bad they think their situation is that they can always come to you for help.
Where to get help on campus: Make sure your child knows where the on-campus counseling building is. If you take a visit with your child to the campus before classes begin, make sure to stop by and see where they need to go if they ever need help. Becoming familiar with the location and even the inside of the counseling complex can be a prudent move should they need to seek help. The quality of the schools counseling program might even be considered when choosing which college your child eventually will attend.
For a lot of students, going off to college is the most exciting and fun time of their lives. For others, it can be the most frightening and painful. Depression is an unfortunate reality for some of today’s students. Some estimates have as much as 15% of college and university students suffering from some form of depression yet only about a third get help for their condition. With new surveys and new studies on the subject seem to keep showing alarming numbers, making sure students understand the symptoms of depression and the dangers of letting it go untreated is of great importance. Often times the hardest part to getting better, is reaching out for help. If you, or a loved one, think you might be having a problem with depression, it is crucial to seek counseling or treatment from a qualified mental health care professional. There is no shame in getting help.