Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nestEmpty nest syndrome describes a collection of symptoms including loneliness, grief, and loss of purpose that some parents experience when their kids leave home for college, careers, or relationships. It is not a recognized mental health condition, but it is a well-established phenomenon that can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Causes and Symptoms
Many parents spend 18 or more years fully dedicating themselves to the well-being of their children. When children no longer need their constant care, some parents can feel directionless, lost, and extremely lonely. Marital dissatisfaction and single parenting can increase the risk of experiencing empty nest syndrome. In many cases women are still expected to be the primary caregivers of children, as such women have an increased likelihood of experiencing empty nest syndrome, though it can affect parents of both genders. Parents whose children leave home may experience:

  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Extreme grief
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • A general feeling of purposelessness

Preventing and Treating Empty Nest Syndrome
For parents struggling with feelings of grief after their kids leave home, psychotherapy can be extremely effective. Occasionally, empty nest syndrome leads to a diagnosable mental health condition such as depression, and medication such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may help alleviate some symptoms along with psychotherapy.

Parents are less likely to experience empty nest syndrome when they have fulfilling lives and friendships outside of child-rearing. When parents are able to take advantage of their increased free time by making new friendships and developing new hobbies, empty nest syndrome can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and enrichment.

Empty Next Syndrome in Popular Culture
Empty nest syndrome is widely recognized in popular culture. The 1980s series “Empty Nest” examined the life of a single father whose daughters had left home. Organizations such as AARP and message boards for seniors frequently address empty nest syndrome and advise seniors to find fulfilling activities outside of child-rearing.


  1. Pomerance, L. M. (n.d.). The empty nest syndrome is not a mental disorder. Menopause Counseling. Retrieved from http://www.menopausecounseling.com/art4.htm

Last Updated: 08-6-2015

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