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Depression must be dealt with early

Experts can help those depressed. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Experts can help those depressed. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My son who is in his third year in a private university has this annoying habit of lying to us every so often. He is a day scholar but please note we do not police him but require at least to know when he will be home. He might say he will be home in the next 30 minutes then takes three hours… I have noted lately he spends a lot of time in his room on his lap top and phone when not having a class. I have told him several times he needs to put his priorities right such that friends who do not add value need to go but it seems my efforts have not borne any fruit.

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You sound like a typical parent of a university student. To summarise your question, I understand you to be asking, what is wrong with my son? He seems so strange that we do not seem to understand him any more.

If that be your real question, then there are several possible explanations as to what might be going on.

Starting with the simple and moving on to the complex, let us establish how long this behaviour has been in evidence.

Has he, for example, been a young man who has always been rather strange? Do you for example, recall times when you had to take him to boarding school “to keep him away from the TV and social media?” is he the type of boy who went to four different high schools, changing first because he did not like the diet, then he did not get on with the maths teacher, after which a fire at school led to his expulsion? Did he then go on to surprise you and the teachers by getting an A- in Form IV against all expectations? Now that you think about it, was he a hyperactive boy about whom the teachers complained about poor concentration? Is he also the boy most liked by your friends and who has close to a thousand friends?

If this sounds like your son, then he could easily be suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a visit to a psychiatrist could help him get through university. To put it as it is, ADHD is one of the commonest causes of failure to complete university education by otherwise clever boys and girls.

Depression is the other possibility. If your son sailed through high school and did well in the first two years of university, then consider the possibility that he could be depressed.

That he now spends “a lot of time in his room on his laptop” lends some support for this clinical possibility. Many young people do not present to us with the classical signs of depression. For many, depression comes to the attention of doctors by way of behaviour change.

A student whose grades are falling, who withdraws from his parents and peers and who might be using alcohol and other drugs could easily be depressed.

Some young men become moody, irritable, and sometimes find themselves in fights in bars as they drink too much. Still others get into multiple accidents, either on the roads or fall from heights. Some die in this context while others suffer lifelong injuries. The time for action is, therefore, now!

Other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia have their onset in youth of about this age and the evidence is now clear that those treated early have the best outcomes.

There is, however, another possibility that you might wish to consider. Does your son really want to complete the degree that he is doing? Have you asked him if he is still interested in being a computer engineer?

There are many university students who get “fed up” with the courses they found themselves in.

Some were simply selected to do a BSC in Education because their first choice eg Land Survey was not available. In the third year he finds himself fed up and without any energy to pursue a degree course that he hates.

Many others go to study law because their parents studied law and have found fame and fortune in their legal practice and in looking for an heir, forced their son to study law.

In the third year, the young man has found the courage to abandon law and to pursue film and music, which is the reason he is with his laptop and phone all the time.

You have decided something is wrong with him. He is equally sure that something is so wrong with you that he is unable to talk to you about it because you will simply not understand him.

As you can see, there are a number of possible explanations for the behaviour of your son. Some to be solved by you, others by the expert.

Readers are advised to send their questions to [email protected]

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