Back to School looks very different this year, and for some this is a wild understatement. As my husband and I were recently driving home after bringing our daughter to college, we couldn’t help but chat about the changing landscape in education, and we are thankful that each our daughter is at the college level.  My husband is in healthcare, and with both of our professions busier now more than ever, it is hard to imagine adding an element of assistance with remote learning for little one to the mix.

The education challenges that young families are facing right now are real, and require a mental agility that is tested consistently.  These individuals, however, are not the only academic stakeholders that are impacted by the current conditions.  College students are young adults at an age and in a setting where much is learned about ethics, finance, and leadership through socialization.  Furthermore, the social aspect that comes along with the engagement of in-person learning is a key source of accountability for these young adults as they mature and learn how to be self-ambitious, continuous learners. While we can speculate the lasting impacts of the adapted learning and campus life, they are indeed just speculations.  Young adults are resilient, and we must give them credit for this trait.

That said, as young adults are known to mask emotions and alter their affect, it is important to keep a finger on the pulse of their mental well-being. They commonly alter their moods or emotions to be in line with social or cultural expectations, making depression under-diagnosed in this age group.  Prior to the pandemic, it was researched that 20% of college-age students are bound to have a depressive episode, and it can be assumed that the isolation brought about by the safety precautions has given rise to that statistic.  Furthermore, after an episode is experienced, chances of reoccurring episodes increase with the following probabilities:

  • 60% chance of a second episode following the first episode
  • 70% chance of a third episode following a second episode
  • 90% chance of a fourth episode following a third episode

From our scope as financial advisors, we see that implications of depression at this age can impact financial foundations for a lifetime, as sad or depressed young adults are more likely to act impulsively to satisfy immediate wants. In behavioral finance, we call this an immediacy bias. With many having their first experience with and access to credit cards at this age, you can see how one thing can lead to another, and bad choices over four years can lead to decades of debt. Given these statistics, the earlier intervention can be applied the better, as depressed individuals are likely to require additional coping skills.

Talking with young adults about mental stability can be a difficult, or even awkward, topic to broach depending on your relationship.  Try focusing around the following topics and questions to help spark the conversation:

Coping Skills and Stress Levels

  • What outlets do you have available to you when you get really stressed? Is there a gym or trail nearby where you can burn off some steam?
  • How is your course load? How often do you feel overwhelmed?
  • Social life is different now. Are you ever discouraged and avoid the events that are available? How are you staying connected to friends?

Sleep and Health

  • Does stress ever keep you up at night? 
  • Is there someone you trust on campus that you can talk to if you ever feel like you’re not yourself, or in an emotional rut?
  • How are the meal options available to you? Are you able to take advantage of healthy choices?

Decision Making and Self Worth

  • How are you managing your budget? Are there any questions we can answer to make you feel more comfortable or prepared for the semester financially?
  • How do you think you’ll reflect on this time after you graduate? How do you feel you are handling the changes?
  • How are you able to reward yourself when you get great grades? What other accomplishments are worth celebrating for you?

Amidst your discussions on your audio and video calls, see if you observe any of the symptoms of a depressive episode such as those listed below:

  • Loss of interest or loss of pleasure in all activities
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feeling agitated or feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of low self-worth, guilt or shortcomings
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions

It is of note to keep in mind that any time of transition can bring along a range of emotions, including stress; not every sad or homesick call is a sign of depression. Additionally, parents cannot be expected to treat or diagnose any mental illness.  It is prudent, however, for parents and students to become familiar with the resources, such as health centers and peer counseling, on campus.  If you are concerned or suspect that your child is experiencing a depressive episode, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource. Learn more at

We wish all students of all ages success, strength, and health as we begin the academic year in 2020.  May your changes fuel creativity, curiosity, and compassion.