Mental health for students far from home: Recognizing depression vs. homesickness

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., said, “Where we love is home –home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” A lesson learned by most college students who return home to realize they miss their campus and friends almost as much as they missed home while away. The challenge families may face is discerning if the child is homesick or battling depression.

More than just the homesick blues

While on the surface depression and homesickness may appear similar, but actually hold several key differences. Kate Theida, M.S., explores the differences between depression and homesickness in college students. With homesickness, Theida writes students, “May miss their family and friends, but will rebound quickly after checking in with those they miss or after a brief visit home.” This rebound can also come from a phone call in which the college student is willing to search for a solution.

As covered in part one of this series, homesickness is a common step in students learning to live on their own. In order for college students to learn how to build the foundations for their life as an adult, they need to start standing on their own two feet. Theida lists some possible symptoms and signs of depression to include:

  • Having feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Focusing on past mistakes and current problems with self-blame
  • Angry outbursts
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping

These are only a few symptoms which can seem normal in small amounts or from time to time. However, if the student continues these emotions and actions for several months, it may be time to seek help.

Singing a brighter tune

With any situation involving depression, a parent should take caution when approaching a child about the topic. Mayoclinic explains the definition of college depression in comparison with depression.  While college depression is not a clinical diagnosis, it is common and varies from regular depression.

“College students face many challenges, pressures and anxieties that can cause them to feel overwhelmed,” Mayoclinic adds. Depression can also have a variety of other causes stemming from environments and genetic factors. In attempting to help a student face the challenges, Theida recommends to, “Give specific examples of what behaviors you are observing, and explain why you are concerned.” Mention that most college campuses have free counseling available for students to receive help on personal and academic issues.

It is not always easy for students to leave home for the first time, but it is possible. For the student struggling with depression, seeking professional help is a strong first step in the right direction. If the student displays signs of depression, Mayoclinic recommends to, “Talk to him or her about what’s going on and listen.” The key is to actually listen and offer advice. Do not tell the student that he or she will get over it, as that will only make things worse.

For the students who are experiencing severe depression or symptoms that worsen, a change of scenery may help treatment. White River Academy provides treatment and care for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17. The academy follows a boarding school format, offering guidance through a disciplined education program and instilling character values through service projects to promote positive growth. There are family visits and family days throughout the year to keep loved ones engaged with the young men. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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