Help! My Young Adult Kid Just Told Me He/She is a Depressed College Student!

Depressed College Student – How to Help!

At Counseling Near Me, we know how scary this can be to suddenly realize your child is now a depressed college student. Parents have hopes of our young adult child soaring into the next stage with flying colors. We want them to be happy. In our eyes, they’re fabulous and don’t understand why they can’t see all their own great qualities. It’s a worrisome discovery to find out that they are depressed. You fear how deep their depression may grow. Feeling anxious about this simply means you are a good, loving, and caring parent.  Here’s what you need to know to begin to help your depressed child:

How do I help my depressed college kid? Start with good listening. Listen carefully and repeat back what you are hearing. This is infinitely more helpful than trying to fix their problems. They don’t need advice at this point; they need to understand themselves, make sense of their emotional turmoil and find hope inside. Validating what makes sense from their perspective  is very effective at helping depressed college kids not feel so alone with their issues.

  • The not-so-validating fix: “Buck up kid, you weren’t going to marry her anyway. There’s plenty of fish in the sea and you’re a handsome dude. Are there any attractive girls in your classes?”
  • Validating: “I hear you. You thought you were in love with her and it hurts that she doesn’t feel the same way. That’s a painful place to be in. A break-up with someone you love would make anyone depressed.”
  • The not-so-validating fix: “You did so well in high school, I’m sure you will do well in college. Maybe you just need a better schedule.”
  • Validating: “You feel overwhelmed by all the assignments and tests. And you haven’t done as well on your first tests as you’d have liked to. You’re worried that you will fail college. And it makes sense that you would worry – the competition is so high; you’ve never had so much to juggle; and you’re so conscientious – it’s difficult for someone who cares so much to not get great grades. I’m here to listen and help in any way that makes sense.”
  • The not-so-validating fix: “Honey, everyone gains the freshman 15 pounds. I’m sure you look beautiful still. You’ve always been hard on yourself. Try just cutting back on junk food.”
  • Validating: “You’re worried about your weight gain. You’ve begun to notice your clothes don’t fit and you’re not feeling as good about yourself. Sounds like you are feeling a bit worried about this situation and it makes sense to feel distressed if you are noticing rapid changes.”

What causes mild depression in college students? You may be thinking, “I just dropped them off two months ago and they were fine; what could happen that could make them so depressed, so soon?”  College presents many challenges for young people, like:

  • Pressure to perform.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Relationship break-ups.
  • Fear of money running out
  • Lack of scheduled eating and sleeping

These problems may all look minor in your telescopic vision back to your own youth but to our college kids, each obstacle may seem loomingly large and feel overwhelming. And when you add them up, unfortunately, your college kid may get depressed.

When do I get my depressed college student help? Soon. We all have down days and moments of insecurity, but you know your kid.  If listening doesn’t seem to resolve their feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, lack of motivation and restore them back to good humor quickly then it’s probably time to get professional counseling. Mild depression is infinitely resolvable and as depression gets deeper it’s more intractable and can get more dangerous.

Especially if your child lives on campus away from you, having a professional counselor keep tabs on the their progress out of their depression – is smart.  You will have someone who is also responsible for your depressed college student’s well-being and has a vested interest in helping them get better and happy again. At Counseling Near Me, we can see any college student throughout the state.  For help outside the state, we recommend you seek out the college campus counseling center.

Often depression gets in the way of clear thinking and the ability to make decisive plans. So, while we want our children to be independent at this age, this is one time it is probably important to step in and make arrangements.

What’s the difference between mild depression and major depression in college students? For your parental heart, any level of depression in your young adult probably causes serious concern.  Clinicians rate a depression based on the number of symptoms present, the way they increasingly cause a lack of functioning and the length of time the symptoms have been present. The following is a guide not a technical assessment tool.

  • Mild depression: for more days than not, or for most of the day your depressed college student might have some of the following symptoms:
    • poor appetite or be overeating,
    • feel blue or sad,
    • insomnia or over-sleeping
    • low energy or fatigue,
    • low self-esteem,
    • poor concentration or difficulty making decisions,
    • feelings of hopelessness.
    • lack of enjoyment about normally enjoyable activities.

But maybe only two of these symptoms are present. And their symptoms are not so intense that they completely dominate your child’s behavior.

  • Moderate depression: you can count more symptoms (about 5) and their intensity is persistent and worrisome. Negative thinking seems to have a hold on your depressed kid. Restlessness or unusual stillness might be present. You cannot find the happy kid you knew inside this depressed young adult.
  • Major depression: More symptoms are present (about 7-8). Psychomotor symptoms are often characteristic (restlessness or slowed down movement). They won’t get out of bed to go to class. You notice jittery movements. Thoughts of suicide and death might have emerged.

What do I do if my kid mentions suicide? Take it very seriously.

Parents are often afraid that questions will put ideas into their kids head that weren’t there to begin with but it’s smart and caring to ask, “Is your depression bad enough that sometimes you think about hurting yourself?”  Don’t panic even if the answer is yes.  Say, “When people are hurting they often want those hurtful feelings to stop.  Sometimes they can only think that doing away with themselves is the way to get the terrible feelings to end.  But we can think together about better ways to stop the hurting and keep you alive.”

Then assess further: Do they have a plan for how they would commit suicide?  Do they have the means to commit suicide?  If their answers are hopefully, more vague – your child still needs a very soon evaluation from a licensed professional counselor.  Asking about a depressed young person’s plans, actually bring relief to them because their anxiety all comes to light instead being just inside their head where they feel a darkness without hope. Don’t be afraid to put words to what you fear and to what you worry about your young adult child is fearing. (yeah, this is scary stuff!!)

If the danger seems imminent, you need to get them in the company of a person who can help – a friend, a dormitory resident advisor, or the campus hospital evaluation team.  Even the campus police, if necessary. They need immediate help.

Thankfully, most of the time, depression doesn’t become severe. But it’s good to be precautious and take action sooner than later.  It’s good that you searched for and have read this article. We hope you will consider using the clinicians at Counseling Near Me in to help your depressed college student find their way through to becoming productive and happy once again.

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