Back to College-Is it Homesickness or Depression

Many health problems pop up on college campuses, but when it comes to mental health conditions, symptoms can look sneakily similar.

Depression and homesickness are fairly common at the start of school. “Homesickness is expected in almost everybody at some point in varying degrees,” says Professor Josh Klapow, PhD. As for depression? A 2011 survey of college students conducted by the American College Health Association found that roughly 30 percent of students felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time in the past year.

The problem: homesickness and depression can look similar — and that one can lead to the other (although that doesn’t always happen). So how do you tell which is which — and better yet, how do you alleviate the symptoms and stop the pain? First, you have to know the signs of each.

What is Homesickness?

“Homesickness is the pain people feel leaving home — it takes different forms in different people, from mild sadness to profound grief,” Susan Matt, PhD, an expert in homesickness tells Yahoo Health.

Some common homesickness symptoms: missing home, family, and friends; thinking about memories from home; and a feeling of insecurity in the new place, coupled with a desire to feel secure.


It’s impossible to predict who will experience homesickness merely from personality traits — like extroversion or introversion — or other typologies, she says. “Sometimes technology helps [like phone or Skype], but in some ways, it heightens the emotion because you see what you’re missing.”

But ultimately, being homesick is completely normal — and common. Homesickness can grow to be significant enough, sometimes morphing into something more serious like clinical depression, Klapow says.


With depression, experts typically talk about two weeks or more where you’re feeling sad and blue most of the day every day. Other signs: a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, sleep issues — sleeping too much or being tired all the time — difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, and a lack of energy in general. If you find that your emotions are impacting how much you’re interacting with your new environment, that could be a sign you’re crossing over from normal toward abnormal.

Finding Homesickness Solutions

 “It’s really comforting if you recognize that other people are experiencing it as much you are.” Connecting with others and realizing you’re not alone can help lessen the blow.

Another thing that can help: Anticipate the homesickness. In fact, research shows that preventive strategies — like expecting the feelings and learning to reframe intense emotions as a reflection of love for your family — can help fight homesickness. And try to keep up with healthy habits. “A lack of sleep, a poor diet, a lack of exercise, and too much partying puts you physiologically in a weaker state,” says Klapow.

If it’s feasible, go back — but make sure you’re not falling out of your college life (making friends, establishing a routine, attending class) by going home.

Dealing with Depression Head-On

 “I always tell kids, ‘if you’re feeling so bad that you’re having a hard time going to class or functioning in your day-to-day, that’s not right. I don’t know if you have depression or not, but it’s time to go see a mental health counselor.’” Visit your college health center or tell a freshman life coordinator. Most colleges have mental health clinics and/or Freshman life coordinators who are equipped to deal with these very issues every single day.  For the complete article: