Sue Scheff: Freshman Blues

Did you just send your child/teen off to college for the first time? Be prepared as a parent for how your child is feeling, experiencing how they are coping. Here are some great parenting tips.

“College is stressful. You’re trying to look what you’re going to be in the future, and you don’t really think about that in high school. When you’re in college you’re trying to be someone, get somewhere, and I think it’s a little bit stressful trying to get to where you want to be.”

– Jennifer, 18 years old

Throughout the summer, many high school graduates were eagerly counting the days until college, when they would begin a new life away from their eyes of their parents. But now that they’re in college many are discovering a dark cloud.

High school senior Sarah has been busy narrowing down college choices and writing applications. She’s excited but also a little worried. “I think it’s going to be difficult to, you know, make all those new friends and adjust to it so quickly,” she says. And it may be more difficult than she knows.

According to a new Associated Press Poll, 85 percent of college students feel stressed, 42 percent say they have felt depressed or hopeless in the past two weeks, and another 13 percent showed the signs of being at risk for depression.

“They just get there and they’re surprised by how much homesickness they may have, how much loneliness they may have amongst all these people,” says psychiatrist Dr. John Lochridge.

He says it starts as stress: making new friends, the demands of college work, being on their own for the first time in their lives. “It’s a little stressful, but I’m trying to hold it together,” says college student Kasim Hasan, 19.

What’s more, according to a study by the University of Michigan, college students who are depressed are twice as likely to drop-out of school.

Many high school seniors don’t anticipate that part of the college experience and that’s why parents should prepare them. “You open up that conversation. You say, ‘You know, I think it’s going to be harder than you think. It’s a different kind of stress from anything you’re used to,’” says Dr. Lochridge.

His advice: let them know it’s OK to feel down at times and that you’ll be there to listen. Also encourage them to share their struggles with a roommate or new friend because they’re probably struggling, too.

Sarah realizes that struggle is part of becoming an adult. “It’s all going to fall on me,” says Sarah. “I have to get everything done, and hopefully I can become independent and rely on myself.”

Tips for Parents
Depression is a medical condition. It can cause one to find the simplest tasks difficult to complete and can affect school attendance. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression strikes about 17 million American over the age of 17 each year. That’s more than cancer, AIDS or coronary heart disease. An estimated one out of 10 children experiences difficulty escaping the symptoms of depression for long periods of time.

Some common reasons for depression, especially among college students, are: the loss of a significant relationship, leaving home, academic difficulties, parental conflict or concerns regarding one’s future. Environmental and biochemical factors may also play a role in causing depression. In some cases of depression, the affected individual can become so overwhelmed that thoughts of hurting him or herself or even suicide may occur. An estimated 15 percent of chronic depression cases end in suicide. Symptoms of depression include:

■The inability to experience pleasure, even from activities that once felt good.
■Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
■Isolation from friends, family and peers.
■Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
■Poor concentration.
Everyone has or will experience feeling depressed at some point in their lives. Notable historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ludwig von Beethoven, Georgia O’Keefe and Mark Twain all suffered from the disease.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, between 80 and 90 percent of all cases of depression can be treated effectively. However according to the National Institute of Mental Health, two-thirds of those suffering from depression don't get the help they need. Many fail to identify their symptoms or attribute them to lack of sleep or a poor diet. Others are just too fatigued or ashamed to seek help.

What should you do if you suspect that someone close to you is suffering from depression?

■The most important thing is to remain supportive.
■Do not blame the person for his or her depression.
■Do not be confrontational or try to get the individual to “snap out of it.”
■Voice your concerns for the person’s wellbeing.
■State that you want to and are willing to help.
■Open lines of communication. This can range from just listening to the person to seeking out help from a mental health professional.
■National Institute of Mental Health
■Oregon Counseling
■Pfizer Inc.
■U.S. Food and Drug Administration
■University of Texas

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