How to Help a College Student With Depression and Anxiety

College is often portrayed as a time of self-discovery, excitement and personal growth. However, let’s get real — it’s not always all sunshine and rainbows. College life can throw some real curveballs. Two of the most prevalent challenges can be depression and anxiety. In fact, 23.4% of American college students surveyed reported feeling both depression and anxiety. It’s important to understand why students can find themselves wrestling with these mental health challenges and how you can help. 

Dealing with depression and/or anxiety

Depression is like a heavy, hollow weight that sometimes lives in your gut, other times in your heart.

Anxiety is like a relentless, tightening knot; a buzzing sound you can’t swat away, a bed you can’t look under.

Experiencing these together can create moments of deep sadness punctuated by sudden spikes of restlessness. You have a simultaneous desire for company and the dread of judgment, resulting in isolation, shame and constant apologizing.

Navigating both can feel like wandering a dimly lit maze, wishing to hear a familiar voice while also hoping no one sees you.

Why are college students vulnerable to depression and anxiety?

College is a whole new world, and while it can be an exciting adventure, it can also present challenges. College students can be vulnerable to college depression and anxiety due to:

  • Academic pressure — College academics can be a pressure cooker of stress, deadlines and the fear of not making the grades needed. 
  • Social transitions — College students may be away from home for the first time. They may find themselves far away from familiar faces, some they’ve known their whole lives. College can feel like a social circus, leaving students feeling like they’re walking a tightrope. Loneliness and isolation can creep in, bringing depression and anxiety along for the ride. 
  • Financial strains — Tuition, bills and a sad-looking bank account can be unwelcome houseguests who refuse to leave. Financial stress and money problems can turn the college experience into a roller coaster of emotions.
  • Independence overload — College can be a crash course in adulting. While this can be a freeing moment for some, it can be overwhelming for others, feeling like being thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. Students suddenly have to make decisions, take on responsibilities and “adult,” which can be a lot to handle. 

Signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety

Spotting the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety are crucial in helping your college student quickly. These can look like:

  • Telltale signs — Telltale signs of college depression and anxiety can be sudden withdrawals from social life, neglecting personal hygiene or an academic nosedive. 
  • Physical signs and symptoms — They may have changes in sleep and/or appetite or mysterious aches and pains that can be signs that their body is calling out for help.

How can you help a college student with depression and anxiety?

Supporting your college student struggling with college depression and anxiety is like being their guiding light in the ravages of a storm. You can play a pivotal role in helping them navigate the challenge of college life by:

  • Encouraging professional help — You can gently suggest they can seek help from a campus counselor or other mental health professional. They can be invaluable assets for your college student or friend, especially if they are far from home. 
  • Creating a safe haven — Individuals with mental health disorders may worry about being a burden or inconvenience. Reassure them that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Remind them of the value they add to your life and the times they’ve helped you in hard times. Maintain a judgment-free space. Let your friend know that they don’t have to “fake happy” for you. 
  • Being patient — It’s also important to practice what you preach. Modeling self-compassionate behavior is good for your friend. It’s also good for you! Taking care of yourself enables you to be a solid member of your friend’s support network. 
  • Helping academically — Meet your friend in their comfort zone. If they’re too anxious to study at the library or they struggle to focus in study groups, be their 1:1 study partner. Try out some time management apps and recommend your favorites.
  • Encouraging healthy habits — Students can help other students by building healthy activities into their daily/weekly routines. How about a trip to their favorite bakery or coffee shop for breakfast once a week? Or you could send a recurring calendar invite for a free yoga class on campus.
  • Establishing a support system — Help them build a squad of supportive friends, and/or family or support groups. This can help keep away the loneliness and isolation. 
  • Staying connected — Respect their boundaries and try not to take their requests for “space” personally. Remind them that you’re always there for them, that you’re happy to listen, talk or simply be there. Use meal delivery services to send them food on days when you know they’re struggling to get by. Offer logistical assistance/take things off their plate. Give them a ride to therapy, support group, pharmacy, etc. Help them schedule appointments if they’re too anxious to make the call themselves. Help them with grocery shopping. 

Lightfully U can be a beacon of hope against depression and anxiety 

At Lightfully U, we understand the excitement and changes that come with college life. We want individuals who are struggling with co-occurring depression and anxiety to know that they’re not alone on their mental health journey.. We are here to offer a strong safety net for the wild ride that is the college experience. 

Change is possible. When your college student is ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of them.

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