College Dropout Treading Water

depressed woman depression
It's not unusual for bright young people to struggle during their first year of college. But if the situation worsens, it might be time for some special action. The Saturday Early Show's Mike Riera has some suggestions.

Helping A Stalled Achiever

Dear Mike:

I have a 19-year-old daughter who did great in public schools. A real achiever.

She entered a major state college, and everything went to pot. Her first semester was fine. She did well in her classes and joined several committees and clubs. Second semester, she dropped out of the clubs, etc., and made new friends.

She became depressed and saw the school psychologist. He put her on Ambien and Valium, which she is still on. She eventually dropped out of classes and lost her scholarship. She did go back to school this fall but dropped out again.

She has gotten into major financial trouble, was caught shoplifting, and has no goals right now. She is slow in getting a job to pay back her major debt and wants to "play" with her friends.

We do not support her financially, except with the major bank and shoplifting stuff. We are constantly explaining the importance of consequences, goals, etc. She just continues to get herself into trouble. Help! We don't want to see her in prison.


If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.

Sandy, this is an unusual story. Most kids who do well in high school stumble a bit once they get to college, but then regain their balance and return to their previous levels of excellence. So there is something else going on here.

A couple of questions to consider:

  1. Is there a history of depression in your family? If so, that's what she may be experiencing now, as depression often first "appears" during late adolescence.
  2. Has there been some other major trauma in her life? Death of a loved one, divorce, or something else that is major? I ask because often these crises from earlier times in our lives resurface during major transitions-going away to college, marriage, birth of a child.
  3. What did/does the school psychologist have to say? Sometimes this person can shed some much-needed insight on the situation.Okay, now back to the current situation. You are absolutely correct in not supporting her other than in the bank and shoplifting areas.

    In essence, you are helping her to tread water until she can catch her breath and begin swimming on her own again. You have two tools t your disposal to expedite this process.

    First are the natural consequences she faces from her actions. Continue to let her face and work through the trouble she gets herself in-including the law if she has another altercation.

    Second, get her into long-term counseling immediately, and make it part of what she has to do to continue to live at home. This is for her own good. I suggest you either work with a psychiatrist or a psychologist who has a close relationship with a psychiatrist. (Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, and your daughter may need meds in order to pull herself out of the hole she is in.) Just make sure the counseling is at least once a week for 50 minutes.

    As difficult as it will be, you need to curtail your conversations with her about consequences and goals-she knows all your lectures already. Now it's up to her to implement these ideas in her life.

    What's most important is to keep believing in her. This will make a big difference for her-seeing, in your eyes, that you believe she is capable of succeeding in her life, which is as much non-verbal as anything you say or do not say. Even if she is never able to express her thanks, it will make a big difference.

    Good luck.