Coping with Parent Depression When Child Goes to College

Practical strategies and emotional support for parents coping with depression when their child goes to college. Learn to manage feelings and adjust to your new role.

Many young adults are getting ready to start university. Alongside them, parents are feeling a mix of emotions. They watch their children head off to college, often for the first time. This moment marks a big change, not just for the kids, but for the parents, too. It might lead to feelings of sadness, worry, and depression, termed “parent depression when child goes to college” or “empty nest syndrome.”1 It’s important for parents to recognize and deal with these feelings. This helps them and their child through this new stage of independence and growth.

Key Takeaways

  • Millions of parents feel various emotions, like sadness and worry, as their child leaves for college.
  • The “empty nest syndrome” can cause loneliness and sadness. But, trying new things can make these feelings easier to handle.
  • As attention shifts from the child to the spouse, it’s essential to put effort into your relationship.
  • Getting help from mental health professionals, family, and friends is key for parents dealing with a lot of anxiety or depression.
  • Colleges offer a lot of help for students and their families as they start this new chapter.

Understanding the Emotional Transition

Going to college marks a big change for both kids and parents. It’s okay for parents to feel a deep sense of loss when their child leaves. This is because they’ve spent years taking care of and watching their child grow.2

Acknowledging the Sense of Loss

When a child goes to college, the family’s dynamics can change a lot. Parents might find it hard to deal with the feelings of loss. This is a common reaction as the child, who was a big part of the parents’ lives, moves on.3 Dealing with these emotions in a healthy way can make the process easier for parents.

Recognizing the Normality of Mixed Emotions

Parents can also feel proud and excited for their child’s new journey.4 Understanding that it’s normal to feel a mix of emotions can help. This perspective balances the loss with the happiness of seeing their child grow.

Recognizing and managing these emotional changes is crucial for parents.4 It helps them support their child and build a new kind of relationship. This period of change can bring a family closer in new ways.

Causes of Parent Depression When Child Goes to College

When a child goes to college, parents can feel very isolated. Their daily routines and emotional ties change fast.1 This change often brings deep sadness, especially for those who’ve been close to their children for years.

Separation from the Child

Parents face a big shift once their children go to college. Their everyday life, their main focus, suddenly changes.1 This shift can be harder than many expect, and it’s important to acknowledge these feelings.

Personal History with Depression

If a parent has battled depression before, this time can be tougher.5 Past struggles can resurface, making it a crucial time for self-care and support from loved ones. Depression in parents can affect their children’s behavior and mood, leading to potential challenges.

It’s important for parents to look after their mental health.5 Their emotional well-being ties to the kind of care they can provide. Being alert and addressing any mental health issues is key in supporting their children’s growth.

Emotional Stages Parents Experience

The journey to college for a child brings many feelings to parents.6 At first, they feel very proud and excited about their child’s achievements. They look forward to the adventures their child will have.6

Pride and Excitement

This pride and excitement is completely normal.6 Seeing their child start this new phase is a big moment. Especially when they go to a workshop and talk about their mixed feelings.6

Sadness and Anxiety

But, these happy feelings soon turn into sadness and worry.6 Parents start missing their child and get anxious about their safety. They also struggle with the big change in their own life.62 After the college drop-off, 90% of moms felt sad but most began feeling better in a month or two.2

Sometimes, one in a couple worries more.6 For one Navy Seal dad, dropping off his daughter was tougher than his Seal training.6

Handling and understanding these emotions is key for parents.62 It can take from six to nine months to feel better and joyful about their child’s college years.2

emotional stages

Self-Care Strategies for Parents

Parents must focus on self-care to help their child move to college and to stay emotionally well.7 This means keeping a healthy routine with regular exercise, good food, and enough sleep.7 They should also try things they enjoy to fill their time and heart, making them feel fulfilled.7 Doing things that make them happy and help them grow fights off sadness and worry.

Maintaining a Healthy Routine

Having a stable daily plan helps parents feel in charge as their nest becomes empty.7 Staying fit, eating well, and sleeping enough reduces stress and keeps them healthy.7 Sharing funny stories or watching comedies can be good for the heart.

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Finding New Hobbies and Interests

When kids leave for college, parents can find new hobbies or interests just for them.7 From mastering a new skill to enjoying arts, doing what they love helps them stay strong.7 If sad feelings continue, getting professional help is wise.7

Taking care of themselves is not just for their children but for their own growth too.7 It’s important to allow time for adjusting and to see the bright side. These are key steps in battling feelings of loss and sadness.

Dealing with the Empty Nest Syndrome

When a child leaves for college, parents can feel the “empty nest syndrome.” It brings a mix of loneliness and a feeling of not knowing what to do.8 Parents might feel very sad when their kids are all grown and leave home. This is called the empty nest syndrome.9 It’s not a medical condition. Instead, it’s a phase where parents feel this way when they’re alone at home.

Combating Loneliness

There are ways to fight the empty nest feelings. Parents should look for new things to do and ways to feel fulfilled.9 They might feel like life is repeating, be sad, or anxious without their kids around.7 It can be hard, like making new relationships with grown-up children and partners, or just figuring out what to do all day. Others may not understand the situation, which makes it harder.

Rediscovering Personal Passions

One way to handle the empty nest is by doing old hobbies or finding new ones. This can align with what’s important to them.7 Taking time for things they love and self-care can really help.7 Exercising is a great way to feel good physically and mentally. And7 laughter is proven to brighten our thoughts. Through hobbies and other meaningful activities, parents can move past the feelings of emptiness. This can give them a fresh sense of purpose.

Seeking Support and Professional Help

Feeling really sad or not able to handle daily life might mean it’s time to get help. In 2021, a report showed that many college students face anxiety and depression10. This shows how common these struggles are today. It’s key for parents to watch their mental health and notice when things get too hard.

Identifying Signs of Depression

Being tired all the time, unable to focus, or thinking about hurting yourself are big warnings. A recent study showed that depression and anxiety in college students have gone up a lot. Many students report these issues, showing how big of a problem it is10.

Seeking Counseling or Therapy

Getting help from a counselor or therapist can teach you how to handle tough times. The 988 Crisis Line and Crisis Text Line are available 24/7. They connect you with trained counselors who can help online10. Recognizing depression signs and getting professional help early is a critical step. It helps people take care of their mental health while facing big changes.

Staying Connected with Your Child

Parents should let their child have space to grow, but it’s vital to stay connected. This can be through calls, video chats, or visits.4 Also, it’s key to let the child’s independence bloom without constant checking.4 Balancing support and freedom builds a strong relationship during this shift.

Maintaining Open Communication

It’s crucial that parents keep the lines of communication open with their child in college.11 This keeps parents updated on their child’s life and helps offer support. Whether it’s regular calls or quick texts, staying in touch supports both the child and the parent.

Respecting Their Independence

While staying in touch, parents should also respect their child’s growing independence.4 Too many check-ins can feel like pressure and hinder their self-navigation. Parents need to find the middle ground. They need to give room for growth but also be there for advice and support.4

Parent Depression When Child Goes to College

When a child heads to college, parents often feel down. This is called “empty nest syndrome.” It’s when they face the empty house without their child.4 They can feel lonely, sad, and maybe even guilty.4 With their kid gone, parents might feel they’ve lost their purpose.4 It’s vital for parents to understand these feelings are common. This knowledge can help them be kinder to themselves and bounce back stronger.

Parents frequently give advice to their kids heading to college.4 They might feel less significant as their children leave, marking a big change in life.4 Some parents feel a mix of relief and sorrow.4 This shows how complex their feelings are at that moment. It’s helpful for parents to process their emotions. Facing and accepting difficult emotions can make the transition smoother.4

It’s natural for parents to worry a lot when their child moves to college.1 Many colleges offer support for parents. This can include joining events or helping students in need.1 Relationships may change between parents once their child leaves.1 It could be a good time for parents to focus more on each other and try new things. Seeking help from a therapist is a good idea if the stress becomes too much.1 Colleges also have many resources to help new students adjust and find support.1

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The author has five kids who went to college, some at the same time.12 When two daughters left, it hit hard, highlighting how tough it can be for parents.12 The youngest studies at a school that offers care packages. For $15, parents can send support during final exams.12 It’s crucial to keep caring for the kids still at home.12 The author found starting a blog or project helped cope after a child left.12 Planning care packages and keeping in touch are also recommended.12 Each goodbye is a big emotional moment for the author, showing the recurring pain of children growing up.12 Staying connected and looking forward to the next meeting are key steps to handle separation.12

Supporting Your Child’s College Journey

Parents play a big role in their child’s college years. Even as their child grows independent, parents can stay involved.10 They can help by volunteering at campus events like orientation or alumni activities. This way, they stay connected to the college and meet other parents.

Volunteering at Campus Events

Volunteering helps parents be part of their child’s college story.2 Whether at orientation or alumni events, it keeps them close to the school. It also lets them build friendships with other parents.

Donating to Student Support Funds

Donating to student support funds or scholarships is also important.2 It shows parents’ ongoing commitment to their child’s education and helps the college do more for its students.

Navigating Changes in Spousal Relationships

When a child leaves for college, it affects their parents’ relationship.13 They might find they need to look at and change their partnership without their kid around every day. This change is a chance to rekindle the partnership with shared interests and new experiences.

Rekindling the Partnership

This time apart can help parents reconnect and find new ways to enjoy each other’s company.2 Studies show that women often feel happier in their marriage once their children are at college. Being willing to change and grow with your partner can make your relationship stronger.

Exploring New Shared Experiences

Parents get to explore new things now that they’re not constantly taking care of their child. Exploring new shared experiences could mean picking up new hobbies or seeing the world together. It’s also a good time to revisit personal passions they may have put aside.

This helps couples stay close and enjoy their relationship more. By finding new ways to be together, parents can handle the change in their life and come out with a better connection.

Managing Anxiety and Worries

Parents often worry about their child’s safety and success at college. They might be concerned about grades, making friends, or fitting in.1 Yet, it’s key for parents to know that some anxiety is normal.1 They need to spot when worry turns into something more severe like depression.1

Recognizing Normal Concerns

It’s okay to feel anxious when your child leaves for college. After all, you’ve been with them almost non-stop for years.1 But, keep an eye on how these feelings affect your daily life.1 If the anxiety gets too much, talking to a professional might help.1

Seeking Support Systems

To deal with worries, find support. This could mean joining other parents or talking to experts.1 Many colleges also offer help for families.1 They have groups and advice just for parents. This can give you useful tips and make you feel less alone.1

Utilizing College Support Resources

Colleges and universities have lots of help for students and families. This includes counseling and health services.14 Parents should know about these to support their kids while they’re at school.14

Counseling Services

College counseling is there for students facing mental health challenges.14 They can help with issues like feeling down, stressed, or dealing with other tough emotions.15 Parents understanding and pointing out these services can make it easier for their kid to get help.14

Health and Wellness Centers

College health centers do a lot for students’ well-being.14 They offer medical care, advice on eating well, and chances to stay active. These resources can really boost a student’s happiness and mindset.14 Knowing about these places helps parents guide their kids in staying healthy.14

Knowing and using these campus resources can make parents feel better about their child’s time at college.1415 It decreases worry and helps the student do well and be happy.14

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Adjusting to the New Family Dynamic

When kids leave home for college, families face a big change. Yet, this is a chance for parents. They can rediscover themselves, try new things, and follow their own dreams.2 They should also feel proud. It’s because of their support that their child is now at college.2 A positive outlook helps parents through this phase. They can find joy in the journey ahead.

Embracing Personal Growth

Seeing a child off to college is a mix of sad and happy. For parents, it’s a time to focus on themselves. They can enjoy hobbies or interests that they might have missed.2 This can bring a new purpose and joy. It helps them feel better about the “empty nest” situation.

Celebrating Your Child’s Achievements

When kids leave for college, it’s definitely a change. But, parents should be really proud. Their child’s success is a result of their effort and support.2 It’s a moment to celebrate. By focusing on their child’s bright future, parents can turn sadness into happiness. They can feel proud of what their child has accomplished.


The moment a child leaves for college is mixed with joy and sadness for parents. It shows their child’s growth and independence. But, it can also make parents feel sad, lonely, or even depressed.1 Yet, knowing these feelings are normal helps. So does taking care of oneself and reaching out for support.1

Staying involved with your child and supporting their college life can help. It also means accepting the changes in your family and spouse’s life.1 In doing so, parents can face challenges well. This approach also opens doors for them to grow and celebrate their child’s success.1 They need to be kind, flexible, and open to the new family life.

Parents should remember they aren’t the only ones going through this change. Colleges offer many resources for both students and families.1 Using these tools and seeking professional help as necessary can help parents keep well emotionally. It also supports their child’s education journey.1


What is parent depression when a child goes to college?

Parent depression, or “empty nest syndrome,” affects many parents when their child leaves for college. It brings emotions like loneliness, sadness, and guilt. These feelings come from the sudden absence of their child.

What are the causes of parent depression when a child goes to college?

Parents feel down when their child goes because they miss them. It’s hard not having their child around who was a big part of their life. Those with a history of depression may feel it worse.

What are the emotional stages parents experience when their child goes to college?

Parents go through different feelings when their child heads to college. At first, they’re proud and excited about their child’s future. Then, they may feel sad and anxious about the separation.

What self-care strategies can parents use to cope with the transition?

Parents need to take care of themselves during this time. They should exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. It also helps to pick up new hobbies to keep busy and happy.

How can parents deal with the “empty nest syndrome”?

Parents should find new things to do during this phase. They can restart old hobbies or find new ones. This helps meet personal goals and feel fulfilled.

When should parents seek professional help for their depression?

If sadness or an inability to cope lasts, they should get help. Signs include low energy, trouble focusing, and suicidal thoughts. Seeking help early is important.

How can parents stay connected with their child during the college transition?

It’s crucial for parents and their child to remain close but give space. Regular communication helps, like phone calls or visits. It’s important not to overdo it and respect their independence.

How can parents support their child’s college journey?

Parents can volunteer at the college to stay involved. It lets them meet other parents too. Also, donating to student funds shows support.

How can parents navigate changes in their spousal relationship during the college transition?

With an empty nest, couples can focus on their relationship. They can share new activities, interests, or experiences. It’s a chance to strengthen their bond.

How can parents manage their anxiety and worries about their child’s college experience?

Parents’ worries are normal but should not be overwhelming. They need to manage stress with support groups or professional help. A healthy balance is key.

What college support resources are available for parents?

College support services are available for both students and parents. It is good for parents to know these services. They offer help for student’s health, mental, and academic needs.

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