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Winter break can be a difficult time for college students and their parents, who are trying to establish a new dynamic that falls somewhere between students’ new found independence and the structure and rules of living at home. While this period of time can be a struggle for some, it also presents an important opportunity for parents to tune in to their child’s mental health. Having been away for the past three or four months, changes in behavior that might have seemed minute in day-to-day interactions can become easier to identify.

During a 2014 survey by the American College Health Association, almost half of college students reported that they felt things were hopeless in the past year and a third reported feeling so depressed they found it difficult to function. Parents can play a critical role in helping to identify if their child is depressed, but first they must know what to look for. The following are some common symptoms of depression:

Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much: Your college student has just experienced several strenuous weeks of studying for finals, pulling all-nighters trying to finish 20-page papers and chances are, they have only planned as far as coming home and crawling into their bed. While this may be normal for the first couple days, take note if you find them staying in bed most of the day or are having difficulty sleeping through the night.

Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy: The transition to college has probably created some changes in the dynamics of their high school friendships but if you notice that your college student is staying home alone and withdrawing into themselves, it may warrant a conversation.

Loss of appetite or eating too much: While some students may just be rejoicing that they have some home-cooked meals for a change, changes in appetite can point to a larger problem they may be facing. Try to keep an eye on their eating patterns throughout the day.

Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts: If at any point your child talks about wishing they were dead or feeling that life isn’t worth living, you should take it very seriously. For more information on the signs & symptoms of suicidality and what you should do, visit www.StopaSuicide.org.

Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not go away: Depression can have physical symptoms as well as emotional ones. If your student is complaining of these symptoms for a long period of time, it may be worth visiting a healthcare professional.

Although winter break with your child will probably seem to fly by, make it a priority to check in on their mental health.

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