When depression strikes
"My son has been diagnosed with depression. His grades are going down, and he said he has no energy and can't sleep. I told him if he could just rest up this weekend, then make an appointment with a counselor and talk to his instructors about his papers, he could get it all cleared up. He keeps saying that sounds like too much. Is there something you can suggest?"
We may take it for granted, but the nuances of effective parenting often depend on what we notice during the time we spend with our children. We are tuned in to our daughters and sons, and being around them daily gives us a steady diet of information based on their activities, movements, gestures, and even their monosyllabic utterances. These clues may not be deep or insightful, but they are invaluable for keeping a pulse on how our children are doing and what they need.
When students leave for college, parents get cut off from much of their son’s or daughter’s life. We need to trust that our students learned enough of our lessons or that the campus community is able to provide needed support and guidance when things get tough.
When students experience depression, their daily challenges become magnified, as does the feeling of powerlessness for parents. Effectively managing depression requires tuning in to two channels of awareness—the rational and the emotional. The rational channel is a source for goals and the plans needed to accomplish them; the emotional side is a source of energy and inspiration that motivates us to strive and accomplish. When these channels are in sync, life is good. For example, if the rational side says, “Let’s go for a run” and the emotional part says, “You bet—I love running,” then all is well. On the other hand, issues can arise if one side is saying, “We need to study physics,” and the other protests, “I’d rather be sleeping.” In that case, a student may be unable to do either. In fact, depression can be thought of as a point where the emotional channel simply shuts down and disconnects from working with the rational.
It is natural for parents to want to offer suggestions. While such efforts may help parents feel like they’re helping, they may miss the mark in connecting with the emotional channel. The result is likely to be that students feel misunderstood, and parents are left with greater concern and frustration. This does not mean parents should do nothing; you can help your student by first conveying emotional understanding and making an effort not to move too quickly into advising steps for change.
In addition, parents can be advocates for their student by encouraging their son or daughter to consult with professionals on campus. The University has two mental health offices, Boynton Mental Health Clinic and University Counseling & Consulting Services. Disability services, academic advisers, housing staff, and faculty are all available to help or guide your student to the most appropriate resources. If you believe your student’s situation is serious, you may contact UCCS, the Parent Program, housing staff, or campus police to report your concerns. While we will not be able to confirm whether your student is accessing support services, a wellness check can be done to ensure your student’s well-being, and we can assist your student in connecting with support services.
Coping with depression can be an uneven process, and improvement differs for each student and the severity of her or his depression. With patience and help, students can learn to manage their depression and find the motivation, values, and energy they need to realize their personal and educational goals.
Dr. Scott Slattery, University Counseling & Consulting Services (UCCS), addresses questions from parents of University of Minnesota students. He may be reached at 612-625-4568 or email@example.com.
Boynton Mental Health Clinic
University Counseling & Consulting Services