Newswise — This spring, more than 17,000 high school seniors (out of 102,000 applicants), were offered admission to UCLA for the fall of 2017. For these young men and women who beat those odds, along with their college-admitted cohorts around the country, it was no doubt a giddy moment, the first time leaving home, the first step toward independence and their future.
But for the parents left behind, giddy wasn’t the word. More like depression, sadness, even grief over seeing this key chapter of their lives come to a close.
While “empty nest syndrome” is not a formal clinical diagnosis or a confirmed mental health disorder listed in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, most psychiatrists agree it’s a legitimate emotional moment when a young adult leaves home and the parents are faced with an empty bedroom—and silence.
“Loneliness, loss, sadness, these are all emotions that can impact a parent at this stage in life,” says Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and an expert on stress and anxiety. Maidenberg is the director of the UCLA Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Clinic, which treats patients for a wide range of emotional events, from a terrorist attack or earthquake to empty nest syndrome.
He suggests one positive way of viewing a child departing for college. “Try to view it as good preparation for another major life stage that you’ll be confronting not too soon after this—retirement,” he says. “That’s an even bigger one.” One way to deal with both these life experiences is to allow your dormant creativity to bloom—try to be more flexible psychologically and try new things you didn’t have time to do before.
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