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College depression: What parents need to know

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By Mayo Clinic News Network

Helping your child make the emotional transition to college can be a major undertaking. Know how to identify whether your child is having trouble dealing with this new stage of life — and what you can do to help.

What is college depression and why are college students vulnerable to it?

Depression is an illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. College depression isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead, college depression is depression that begins during college.

College students face many challenges, pressures and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed. They might be living on their own for the first time and feeling homesick. They're also likely adapting to a new schedule and workload, adjusting to life with roommates, and figuring out how to belong. Money and intimate relationships can also serve as major sources of stress. Dealing with these changes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood can trigger or unmask depression during college in some young adults.

What are the impacts of college depression?

Depression during college has been linked to:

Impaired academic performanceSmokingRisky behaviors related to alcohol abuse, such as having unsafe sex

What are the signs that a student is dealing with college depression?

Many college students occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions pass within a few days. Untreated depression persists and interferes with normal activities.

Signs and symptoms that a student might be experiencing depression during college include:

Feelings of sadness or unhappinessIrritability or frustration, even over small mattersLoss of interest or pleasure in normal activitiesInsomnia or excessive sleepingChanges in appetite or weightAgitation or restlessnessAngry outburstsSlowed thinking, speaking or body movementsIndecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentrationFatigue, tiredness and loss of energyFeelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixation on past failures, or self-blame when things aren't going rightTrouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering thingsFrequent thoughts of death, dying or suicideCrying spells for no apparent reasonUnexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

How can I help my child cope with depression during college?

In addition to seeking treatment, your child can take steps to feel better. For example, encourage your student to:

Take it one step at a time. Encourage your child to avoid making major decisions, such as changing majors, or doing too many things at once. Instead, break up large tasks into small ones.Participate in activities. Urge your child to get involved in activities that he or she enjoys, which might help diminish or shift focus away from his or her negative feelings. Physical activity can be particularly helpful.Seek support. Encourage your child to get to know people in his or her dorm and classes. Friends can help your child feel more comfortable in a new environment. Family can be a great source of support, too.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/college-depression/art-20048327