03 Jan Anxiety and Depression During College Years
Off to college. An exciting time of freedom and expanding one’s self awareness and consciousness. Opportunities abound to learn new ideas, as well as skills for professional life. That’s the awesome part, but there is a flip side. 1 in 5 college students experience anxiety or depression.
Anxiety and Depression During College – Student Edition
There are obvious factors. The first time seriously living away from home. Feeling anxiety and depression during college trying to juggle academics, work, and friends. Navigating family expectations and interactions. All this while trying to fit in and figure out your future. Transitioning to adult life can be a huge challenge to many. You have to be wholly responsible for yourself. You’re possibly in a new city, feeling lonely and trying to find companionship. You have to eat right (hopefully) everyday. This can naturally cause you to feel like your foundation is shaky, and you don’t know which end is up anymore.
Then there are the financial worries. The rising cost of college. Fear of not getting a job after college, and having to move back home. These can cause anxiety and depression in college students, impaired judgment, and an increase in risk taking behaviors. Things like alcohol and drug abuse, or careless promiscuity. You’ll especially need support at times of transition, or increased stress, to strengthen your proper judgment muscles.
With effective coping skills, college offers a fresh start to reinvent yourself. Know to seek help when you are not feeling stable emotionally. If you have a predisposition to anxiety or depression, it’s important to remember that your condition still exists once you leave for college. Psychologists find a marked increase in college students suffering from anxiety and depression. Quality therapy can help you manage these symptoms in a healthy way.
Anxiety and Depression – Parent’s Primer
You may think the solution to avoid your child suffering is to remove logistical and emotional problems. Unfortunately you then run the risk of being ‘Lawnmower Parents’. This definition describes parents who mow down all their children’s challenges, discomforts and obstacles. The motivations are well intentioned and compassionate. But, it makes it so the child has no idea how to handle adversity and unexpected situations. In an effort to help, parents actually hinder their child’s survival skills. This is an issue of enmeshment and enabling. Such parental over-involvement can foster dependence, anxiety and depression, and thwart creativity and resourcefulness. I counsel families to balance their involvement. Effective techniques help their college aged youth handle stress, foster independence, and increase self-reliance.
Help them be honest about over-reliance on technology. Ask whether it has become problematic; causing anxiety or depression in any way. You may be surprised how common this is. I receive requests for counseling due to over-dependence on technology, and the inability to put it aside and just live. One study found that almost 50 percent of college students admitted they woke up at night to answer text messages. The same study shows problems increase with more use during sleeping hours. Quality of sleep degrades, and depression and anxiety spikes.
Anxiety and Depression – Advice for Parents and Students
So what do we do to curtail anxiety and depression in college students? The key is early recognition of those most vulnerable. Parents – go with your gut instincts. Students – talk to your parents, or a trusted friend. Look into whether or not your school has mental health services available. Check out the Wellness Centers at colleges and see how they can help. Look into physical exercise programs. Exercise is incredible to help relieve stress. Resident Assistants are there to help. You can find them on every floor of a college campus. They are there specifically to help you. Your campus health or counseling center may organize support groups for students with depression, anxiety, or other disorders. Depression and anxiety don’t go away on their own magically. Numbing them with alcohol, recreational drugs, or distractions is only a temporary ‘band-aid’ solution.
Frequent, intense, and uncontrollable depression and anxiety symptoms that interfere with your daily routines are a sign of a problem that needs immediate attention. There are many options. It’s super important that you do something. Don’t ignore your suffering, and never give up! A good therapist can do wonders. I’ll leave off sharing a special moment. One freshman I’ve helped, when he faced anxiety and depression during college, said to me “My many drunk uncomfortable sexual decisions, and negative self respect has stopped with good therapy.”