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The Freshman 40

August 20, 2012

This week about 20 million students, will be entering freshman or upperclassmen returning to college. Most are young adults. Many will be living away from home for the first time in their lives. Virgin parents in attendance at this rite of passage will get the helicopter parent speech–don’t hover, be happy–from the College President. But there’s one bit of advice that neither parents nor students receive about what I’ve dubbed The Freshman 40.  The Freshman 40 is not that familiar weight gain (that’s the Freshman 15).  The Freshman 40 (a misnomer since it can hit anytime during college years) refers to the estimated percentage of college students who will experience a serious depression. Substance abuse often coincides with depression for this age group. The American Psychological Association released a recent report on the rise of serious mood disorders among college students. The good news is that depressed students who seek help often experience more rapid relief than older adults.

What’s a parent to do? I’m a big fan of talking with your kid and informing him about the signs of depression, and then giving them a tour of the college counseling office. Knowledge and intervention help. While we’re all familiar with that blue feeling that blows over in a few days, depression lingers, deepens, and disables. There are 5 types of depression:

  1. Major depressive disorder affects sleep, appetite and everyday functioning.
  2. Dysthymic disorder is mild and chronic, lasting 2 years or more.
  3. Minor depression looks like major depression with less severe symptoms and is of shorter duration.
  4. Psychotic depression resembles major depression with features of hallucinations and delusions.
  5. Seasonal affective disorder often begins during late fall and winter, lifts by spring.

How to help? First, don’t panic–normalize this for yourself. Your student is not alone. Remember college is a time of rapid transition and of many social as well as academic adjustments. Talk and listen carefully.  Empathize. Don’t pull for only the happy news. From a distance, SKYPE can provide an “eyeball” take of your child’s demeanor. If you’re concerned, encourage your student to visit the college counseling office, or even student health, which can do a baseline assessment. If your student refuses, keep trying, but don’t push–visit. Nothing substitutes for a face-to-face encounter. Early treatment offers important  relief. Your acceptance, support and encouragement will make a difference.

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