On Friday, Aug. 30, the University of Maine welcomed incoming first-years, the class of 2023. For some students moving into their new dorms, the feeling of watching your parents drop your stuff at your door and leave to head back to the home you just left behind may bring a new feeling of independence. However, many others may feel a pang of anxiety. According to research conducted by the UCLA Higher Education Institute, over two-thirds of first-year college students report feelings of homesickness.
Homesickness can take many forms and can affect every student differently. Typically, homesickness is equated with the feeling of missing parents, friends or pets from your home life. But homesickness can also be fostered in feelings of loneliness, displacement, anxiety or irritability, and can also cause a decrease in motivation and an overall negative mindset. Left untreated, homesickness can lead to more severe mental health problems.
Even though the majority of first-year college students across the nation experience homesickness, the negative stigma around mental health or other problems often prevents students from sharing their feelings with their peers, mentors or parents. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 40% of students affected do not seek out any help.
But, here’s the thing. It’s ok to call home.
If you don’t know how to navigate your way through college-level classes yet; if you are having a hard time making friends; or even if you saw a dog on campus and wanted to share it with your family — it’s ok to call home. It’s easy to feel like once you enter college you have to be an adult working your way through the world on your own. But family members are one of many resources available to college students that should be utilized to their full potential to help create the easiest transition into a new lifestyle.
UMaine does a wonderful job welcoming first-year students by providing them with a jam-packed weekend full of fun events around campus to keep first-years occupied and social during their first few days. However, when the weekend ends, and the first week of classes begin, some of the novelty of the new schedule, new friends and new living spaces can wear off and leave students in a strange and unfamiliar setting, leaving plenty of room for the homesickness to set in.
Students can help fight homesickness in numerous ways. For UMaine in particular, students can get involved in organizations tailored to their interested by choosing from one of over 200 student clubs on campus, join a sorority or fraternity or sign up for intramural sports. Additionally, UMaine offers professional services through their Counseling Center and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Services, who are there to help students work through their transition to college life.
Further, calling home to talk to your family, scheduling a weekend home to look forward to or even printing photos of your friends and family to hang in your dorm are all ways to help offset missing home. There is no shame is missing the comfort and normalcy of your family, and asking for help in no way impairs a student’s ability to thrive in a college setting.
However, if feelings of homesickness persist over an extended period of time, it may be a sign of something more serious. In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, David Berrier, a chief psychiatrist with University of Chicago’s Student Health and Counseling services says that symptoms of homesickness and mental health issues can have some overlap because “symptoms of homesickness can often resemble conditions like depression: feeling tired, experiencing mood changes.”
And much like homesickness, mental health issues impact many first-year students. A 2018 study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that over one-third of first-year students are impacted by mental health issues across the globe.
As the semester moves forward, remember that it is normal to miss home, and completely acceptable to take some time to call your parents. But also be proactive and aware of your mental health; if feelings of loneliness or anxiety don’t fade as you adjust to this new lifestyle, consider making the effort to reach out to the resources at your disposal on the UMaine campus.
A list of student resources is available on the UMaine website, or through this link: https://umaine.edu/studentlife/student-resources/.