What To Do If Your College Student Is Depressed

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The van is packed and there is a sense of excitement, anxiety, hope, fear, and exhilaration. You, as a parent, cannot help feeling nervous because you dropped your daughter off at college. Your sense of pride overwhelms you, but so does your fear. This is the first time your daughter has been out in the world without you.

You start dealing with your emotions and look forward to the weekend visits.

Within a few weeks of being away, you start to notice changes in your once fun-loving, peppy, energetic daughter. She now comes home on the weekends, stays in her room, sleeping the days away, appears to have picked up some weight, and she is not hanging out with her best friends anymore.

Now, your apprehension has been replaced with feelings of concern and worry! What do you do?

The first step is to talk with your child about the changes you have noticed with her. Let her know that you love her and do not judge her. Also, make her feel safe to tell you anything that may have happened or how she is feeling.

Directly ask your child if she has been in any unsafe or abusive situations. Once you have ruled out any safety concerns, you can start to figure out if your daughter is suffering from depression. Here are causes of depression in college students, symptoms to watch out for, plus additional steps to take if you're concerned that your college student is depressed.

Causes of Depression in College Students

Your child could be depressed for different reasons, so having context is helpful for informing your next steps in seeking treatment. Here are some common causes of depression in college students:

Signs Your College Student is Depressed

If you feel your college student may be struggling with depression, ask if she is feeling suicidal.  If she says yes, then immediately take her to the closest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.

Warning Signs of Suicide

If she states that she does not feel suicidal then your next step is to seek help immediately for her depression. You need to immediately start laying the groundwork of  your daughter’s support system. This will include people at home, and at school.

Where to look for help for your college student

If you want to go through insurance, check coverage options

If your daughter is covered by insurance, you can call your insurance company for a referral to a psychiatrist and a therapist.

Consider counseling services on, or near, campus

You can check out counseling centers near her school, near your home, or the counseling center on campus.

If your child travels between home and campus, try online counseling

If she travels back and forth from college it may be best to seek out a therapist and psychiatrist who see clients online.

Licensure boards typically require therapists to see clients within the same state as your residence, so if you live in a different state from the college, you may be able to locate a therapist that has a license in both the college state and the residential state. This will be useful if she needs extra support, regardless of where she is located at that moment.

Show support from all ends for your child

The assistance of a therapist will help your daughter learn about her depression, assist her when she feels overwhelmed, teach her coping skills, help her monitor the effects of medications, provide her much-needed support, and will assist in a quicker recovery time.

But those changes won't happen overnight – and in the meantime, she may need some help implementing the advice and lifestyle alterations she learns from therapy. Here's how you can show support in a loving way:

Decide together if you will also communicate with her provider

Since your child is now over the age of 18, HIPAA laws will prevent you from communicating with a therapist or a psychiatrist without her consent. You may want to discuss this with your daughter and what she wants in terms of your participation. This should be addressed upon the initial intake with the appropriate forms.

Offer to attend the appointment too, or drive your child there

If your child is seeing a therapist in-person (as opposed to online), you can show support by asking if you can attend the appointments with her (or, at the very least, drive her there). This will offer her extra support for her during this time, as well as assist her in navigating the initial process.

Provide help with medication management, if applicable

If medication is appropriate there will be scheduled visits to adjust medications, so offer to help keep her organized. It might help to add the follow-up appointments to your own calendar, so you know what to expect and when.

Set up a safety plan

Regardless of how involved in the actual appointments she allows you to be, one of the most important things to do is set up a safety plan for times where your daughter feels like she is getting worse or suicidal.

This plan should include her newly established support group to include her psychiatrist, therapist, roommate, or college friends she spends the most time with, and the on-campus counseling center.

Depression does not have to interfere with your child's dreams. Keeping her as independent as possible but involved with the family is the key to allowing her to build a mentally strong and healthy life.

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