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Navigating the Mental Health Crisis in Young Adults

Summer Solstice 2024 Friday, June 21, 2024. Learn More

August 6, 2019

Early Signs of Depression in Young Adults

The transition from high school to college can be difficult for young adults. Many may experience symptoms of depression that fade after a few weeks or months (situational depression). Still others experience depressive symptoms that persist. This might be major depression, the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals ages 15 to 44. Catching your young adult’s symptoms early can help them make it through college and lead more productive lives.

Pay close attention to the following symptoms recognized by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. If your child exhibits five or more of these depression symptoms, they may be suffering major depression, and you should discuss contacting a mental health provider.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Loss of interest in day-to-day activities
  • Typically presents as sad or attempts to cover up sadness by pretending to be happy
  • Eats less than usual or eats in excess
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeps too often (hypersomnia)
  • Manic movements such as pacing, wringing their hands or tapping (psychomotor agitation) or decreased movement such as lying in bed all day
  • Lack of energy during the day (fatigue)
  • Feelings of worthlessness or displaced guilt
  • Suicidal ideation and/or frequent discussions about death
  • Inability to recall details, make decisions and/or concentrate for extended periods of time

When college students experience situational or major depression, there are some strategies to aid in their recovery.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a common therapy used for young adults with depression. A therapist supports your child’s wellbeing by acting as a sounding board for their issues, teaching coping skills that enable long-term symptom management. Some colleges offer free counseling, and even if your child has a counselor at home, encouraging them to visit their school’s counseling center can be conducive to recovery.

Your child may function best in a group therapy setting where they can interact with people dealing with similar symptoms. They might also benefit from creative expression to work through their feelings, using art and music therapies. If major depression is a known issue, residential treatment may be a good step before college. Investing time into a variety of therapies early on provides your child the best chance at overcoming major depression.


For teens who have suicidal thoughts or ideation, medication may help lessen those negative ideas. Medication effectiveness and side effects are different for everyone, and it may take a few tries to find the right fit for your child. Talk with your medical provider to determine what will work best for your child and adhere to their recommended medication plan. Those who experience major depression typically have therapy, medication, and self-help techniques in their treatment plans.

Self-Help Techniques

Self-help techniques should be used in addition to taking advantage of the above treatment options; however, they are most effective against depression when performed on a daily basis. Help your child find a support group or community where they feel welcome and are able to express their feelings openly rather than keeping them locked up. When they are able, young adults should engage with others regularly, attending social functions with friends and meeting up with family members. Eight hours of sleep per night is a goal your child should set for themselves, and if they live with you, you can assist them in getting to bed on time. If your child is away at college, be sure to check in with them about these types of activities. At home, at college, or in a residential therapeutic community, a structured schedule lessens the effects of depression. Additionally, regular exercise, yoga and other forms of relaxation (massages, meditation, etc.) can boost mood.

Above all else, be present. If your child is in college, allow them the freedom to be independent, but pay close attention to shifts in behavior, and talk with them if you think there is a more serious issue. But if your child is diagnosed with major depression, keep in mind that programs including medication, group counseling, meditation and life skills, among other activities may be necessary to cope with the illness.

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