Spotting signs of depression in college students

Experts say change in motivation, negative thoughts often red flags

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Studies find one in three college students suffer from depression, and of those, only a third will seek help.

Experts say this time of year can be a particularly difficult for freshmen, as the initial excitement wears off and the academic pressure starts to build.

"Those adjustment issues of really being on your own and that additional level of independence and responsibilities, and all the decision making that goes along with that can really be challenging sometimes for students," said Barb Hanson, a counselor in the athletic department at the University of Michigan.

Hanson says there are subtle signs of depression parents can pick up on.

"Parents have indicated that they'll hear it in their son or daughter's voice when they're having a phone conversation," said Hanson.

Some potential red flags include a change in mood or activity level, lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, avoiding friends and fatigue or an inability to get out of bed, which can lead to missed classes.

"Maybe a sense of lethargy and lack of motivation, lack of interest or satisfaction in things that usually they'd be excited about or looking forward too," said Hanson.

A pattern of negative thinking is also a concern.

"If they're having a lot more frequent negative thoughts that are hard to dismiss," said Hanson. "It's okay for parents to ask not just, 'How are you doing in classes?' and 'How are you doing with friends?' but you know, 'How are you doing overall and and what's this experience like for you?'"

Hanson says parents need to let students know, depression is very common and help is available.

"A lot of times students don't want to disappoint their parents, so it's also hard. I think it's one of the barriers sometimes in sharing with a parent, 'Mom and Dad, I'm really struggling,'" said Hanson. "I think if parents can proactively put that message out there, it can be a big help."

College campuses have counselors available to help students develop strategies to deal with stress and depression and can connect them with treatment if needed.

Are you depressed? Take a free screening test here.

To learn more about depression, check out a special website created by the University of Michigan Depression Center.

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