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Health & Parenting

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Going to College: How to Prepare

Here are some important tips to make the transition to college a little easier.

When Depression Rears Its Ugly Head

"In recent years, we've seen a significant increase in mental health issues and problems among college students," says Fassler. The most recent data from the ACHA show an increase in depression among college students over the last three years. In 2003, almost 16% of females and 8.5% of males reported ever getting diagnosed with depression.

One reason, Fassler says, is that unlike previous generations, more students with existing chronic conditions are getting treatment during high school and are mentally able to go on to college. If your kid is currently undergoing mental health treatment, make sure they continue their care and/or medications.

For students who develop depressive symptoms after they start college, stress and isolation are often to blame. "College is often the first time they've been away from home and their established support system," says Fassler, who works with the Walden Behavioral Care LLC in Waltham, Mass., a clinic that specializes in treating college students.

As a result, not all symptoms spell a major depressive disorder. Often, students experience homesick feelings or face social challenges -- not liking their roommate, for example -- that make the initial months of college especially challenging. It's normal for students to change and grow -- and have some difficulties -- during their first year of college, but you should keep an eye and ear out for what Kenzig describes as a significant change in attitude. Your kids may require help if they are experiencing extreme mood swings, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a loss of interest in things they once loved, loss of appetite, or significant changes in sleep patterns.

The problem for many parents, says Fassler, is that they might not have any idea their kid is having a problem. "The key is for parents to let their kids know that they can talk to them about any problems they may have. You should sit down and have an honest discussion about the challenges of college before they leave home."

Luckily there are a lot of resources for students, says Fabiano. Students should be encouraged to reach out not only to friends, but to professors, resident advisors, and counselors. Most colleges and universities will offer counseling; however, some may be understaffed, says Fassler. When necessary, consider off-campus mental health services; most schools will offer referrals.

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