College depression: What parents need to know

College depression is a common problem. Understand why the transition to college makes young adults vulnerable to depression — and what you can do about it.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Helping your child make the emotional transition to college can be a major undertaking. Know how to identify whether your child is having trouble dealing with this new stage of life — and what you can do to help.

What is college depression, and why are college students vulnerable to it?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. College depression isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead, college depression is depression that begins during college.

College students face challenges, pressures and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed. They might be living on their own for the first time and feeling homesick. They're adapting to new schedules and workloads, adjusting to life with roommates, and figuring out how to belong. Money and intimate relationships also can serve as major sources of stress. Dealing with these changes during the transition from adolescence to adulthood can trigger or unmask depression during college in some young adults.

What are the signs that a student is dealing with college depression?

Many college students occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions pass within a few days. In contrast, depression affects how a person feels, thinks and behaves and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.

Signs and symptoms that a student might be experiencing depression during college include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Your child might also start having academic problems not consistent with her or her previous performance.

Sept. 02, 2016 See more In-depth