Helping College Students with Depression

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

College depression can be lead to unhealthy behaviors. This lesson addresses signs of college depression as well as prevention and coping strategies to help college students.

What is College Depression?

College can be a very stressful part of life, and high levels of stress can lead to what is called college depression. If left untreated, it can lead to unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating or not eating, and sudden thrill seeking. Also, it can result in unnecessary risk-taking, like practicing unsafe sex, dropping out of school, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide.

Signs of College Depression

While all students feel stressed and anxious at some point in their college careers, those feelings usually pass in a day or two. However, it is when those feelings persist over an extended time period that it may indicate a problem. Such signs include:

  • Random tearful outbursts, along with constant sadness and feelings of unhappiness
  • High irritability and impatience, even over small matters
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Excessive and sudden weight loss or gain
  • Constant agitation and restlessness
  • Shortness of temper
  • Irregular or slow thinking, speaking, movements and reactions
  • Inability to concentrate, and easily distracted
  • Exhaustion and lack of energy
  • Indecisiveness and memory problems
  • New-found fascination with and fixation on death and dying
  • Sudden and unexplained headaches and other physical pains and discomfort

Prevention of and Coping with College Depression

Depression in college students can be difficult to notice and diagnose, especially if the student no longer lives at home. However, even if students are suspected of showing signs of depression, there are steps that can be taken to either prevent or help alleviate college depression.

  • Talking and listening

Talking to students who may suffer from college depression in a non-confrontational way, and actively listening to their responses, can help parents get to the root of the problem. Parents must also reinforce the fact that there is no shame in asking for help, and encourage students to be open with their feelings and talk to them, their doctors, or the schools' mental health services, offered by an ever-increasing number of colleges and universities.

  • Task management

Avoiding high stress can be achieved by encouraging students to break up big tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Also, talk to the students about avoiding making major decisions quickly and on their own. Parents should offer support and encourage them to discuss and communicate with them or trusted friends, who can help ease the burden of those major decisions.

  • Physical activity

Whatever stresses and negativity students may be feeling can be alleviated by physical activity, especially those which they enjoy. Physical activity, even if just walking to and from classes, also releases endorphins, which help elevate one's mood.

  • Building a support system

Parents should encourage students to socialize, and to get to know others in their dorm, classes, etc. By doing so, students can surround themselves with students who share their interests and passions. This support system will increase their happiness and lower stress, giving them a sense of belonging.

  • Preparation

A great way to ensure a smooth transition for students from high school to college is familiarizing them with the college environment. This can be achieved by arranging tours of the campus, talking to other students, and asking them for coping strategies. They can also meet with advisors and faculty, receiving further advice on managing stress and how to keep from feeling overwhelmed. And they can also check out the campus health resources, just in case the need arises.

  • Early detection

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