How to Handle Separation Anxiety: A Guide for Parents and Students

Whether it's parents worried about becoming empty-nesters or students becoming depressed, experts give advice on how to hold it together when going back to school

Staying conected (Image: Thinkstock)

Even with the excitement surrounding their new-found freedom, some students will have challenges making new friends, living in small accommodations with a stranger and facing the pressures of academic life, which could trigger depression.

A study published in January by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry reports that roughly 25% of students visiting on-campus health clinics were diagnosed with depression.  Depression warning signs include increased anger or agitation, sudden changes in the number of times the student calls home, a sudden decline in grades, any kind of talk of suicide or of giving away personal possessions and excessive drinking or drug use, Dr. Joyce says.

Joyce also warns that African American students attending institutions where they are the minority may experience more social isolation and are more prone to depression than white students.

“There can be additional pressures that these students experience such as feeling like an ‘ambassador’ or feeling pressure to try to fit in. Sometimes Black male students feel that in order to fit in and to not ‘seem intimidating’ to white students, they can’t really be themselves,” Joyce says, adding this can increase their already existing stresses and can potentially cause an increase in anxiety and depression.

But getting African American students to open up about depression is a whole other animal.

“With black students, it’s a little different and more nuanced because generally we may suffer depression. But talking about it and seeking out services has always been a little different than other populations because it’s always been a little taboo in our community,” says Ellis.

Dr. Joyce says one of the crucial things for parents and students to remember is to keep the lines of communication open, and create an environment where both feel safe to express their feelings of fear, sadness or anxiety.  “I always encourage students and parents to talk openly about feelings of depression, and to never overlook talk of suicide. Often people have the idea that talking about suicide will give someone the idea to do it, but this is not the case,” she says.

Students experiencing any symptoms of depression are encouraged to seek professional support by visiting the on-campus student health center, which usually includes a mental health department, or a qualified professional in the community.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, there’s help. Please contact one of the resources below for assistance.

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK
National Adolescent Suicide Hotline: 1-800-621-4000
NDMDA Depression Hotline: 1-800-826-3632
Crisis Help Line: 1-800-233-4357

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