Question. I’m sensing a sense of desperation and depression in our son, a college sophomore. His adjustment to college has been terrific. He excels academically, participates in a number of activities, plays ultimate Frisbee and appears to have many friends. During our last phone conversation, he sounded really “blue.” A recent break-up with a girlfriend may have triggered his current state, but in high school he went through numerous girlfriends with hardly a thought. This new emotional state has me worried. – Mary F. Denver
Answer. A recent study suggested that one out of two undergraduate students will experience depression at some time during college. It’s difficult to know what triggers it but we know for certain it’s impossible for most of us to go through life without experiencing periodic pain and disillusionment. A student, new to college, will feel insecure not knowing where he stands academically compared to other students. A star student in high school may no longer stand out among hundreds of excellent students. Creating a new identity takes time. Losing a girl friend that happened to be a good support system could feel devastating when one’s main support system, the family and former high school friends, are no longer physically present. A poor grade can also be temporarily upsetting. So, how do you as a parent cope with this situation if your child is far away and what can you do to help your child?
First of all, it’s important to ascertain just how serious the problem really is. When a child is having a hard time, it’s important to let them know that you’re ready to listen without being judgmental. If you think the behavior is an emergency, let the student know you plan to check in with his resident hall advisor because you are concerned. Let your child know that he’s an adult but your concern is warranted.
The support on campuses is usually very good and most schools have immediate assistance available for students in distress.
It’s a good idea to investigate the availability of health services for both physical and emotional problems when visiting campuses prior to your child’s enrollment. Ask about the availability of wellness activities to educate students about the need for adequate sleep, physical activities and good nutrition. We assume that because a child has grown up in a healthy household, they now have the means to see the connection between healthy lifestyles and academic success.