Depressed in College? How to Spot the Symptoms and Get Help

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College is an exciting and liberating time for many students, though the transition into adult life can often be challenging. From choosing the right university and major to achieving high academic performance, the pressure to excel is one reason students may feel depressed in college. Read more here to find out how to spot signs of stress early on as well as healthy and productive responses.



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What is Depression?

Symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe, and typically affect your pattern of thought and emotional reactions to daily occurrences. It can cause ongoing feelings of sadness and a detachment from people, hobbies, or activities.


It is important to maintain your self-awareness even when you start to feel these symptoms. Sometimes, losing interest comes with the evolving environment. Relationships, scheduling commitments, and goals constantly change during college, explaining why many students choose to switch majors or transfer schools. The key is to monitor the symptoms and speak to someone if they persist over several weeks or months.



How Does Depression Affect College Students?

According to a 2018 study, 44% of college students in America reported feeling symptoms of depression, however two thirds of these young adults do not seek out the necessary help for mental health problems. The good news is, 80-90% of those who did seek help reported the ability to “function the way they used to” after receiving treatment.


The mental health of college students can easily affect their academic performance and social interactions. The key is to spot the signs early and to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ anxiety. Feeling nervous before a big exam, for instance, can lead to anxious and even obsessive behavior. Although it is important to enter the exam with confidence in your knowledge of the course material, it is equally as important to get a good night’s sleep, to eat a satisfying breakfast, and remember that this one exam will not dictate your entire future.


If your workload is becoming stressful or overwhelming, speak to your academic advisor about alternative options. Many students choose to drop courses that are especially challenging, and the earlier these decisions are made the better. Over time, you will narrow your academic interest and become familiar with your strengths and shortcomings, making the future course selection process significantly easier and, even, exciting! Remember that during college, you are not bound to your academic decisions for the rest of your life, but rather they should reflect your goals and help you achieve them.



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Common Signs of Depression

  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Loss of energy
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Trouble focusing
  • Not getting out of bed
  • Insomnia
  • Body aches
  • Disconnected from feelings


Common Sources of Unnecessary Stress

  • Academic Stress
  • Social Media and Self Esteem
  • Alcohol and Drug Use
  • Competition and Perfectionism
  • Anxiety
  • Finances



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What Can You Do?


1. Reach out


Local or on-campus counseling centers are typically free for students. If not, check with your insurance provider, as they may offer support for private therapy services. And, you likely have friends already speaking with a therapist. Ask them for a referral if you are uncomfortable meeting with a complete stranger. Some additional mental health services offering support to college students include ULifeline, Mental Health America, and Active Minds.



2. Stay organized


It can be tough for students to schedule their days between all the courses, extra commitments, personal needs, and relationships. Try keeping a monthly planner to stay focused on the big picture. This little step in becoming more organized often improves academic performance and aids the realization that you have more time than you think.



3. Avoid Social Media


Are you someone who needs to check your Instagram multiple times a day? Do you constantly update your Twitter and check what others are sharing? Especially during college, it can be pretty easy to compare ourselves to others, and social media can definitely enable this process. The trick is to cut yourself off from the feed when you notice it becoming too much. Instead of using social media to try and find out what everyone else is up to, text some friends and ask if anyone wants to get dinner after class. You’ll be surprised by how much more satisfied you feel after talking with other people, rather than speculating about them.



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4. Avoid alcohol and drugs


Many students, especially those living on a college campus, rely on the weekends to unwind from stress built up throughout the week, though this lifestyle can have lasting effects on students’ mental and physical health. While your social life in college should definitely help you recharge for the upcoming week, it is important to find positive distractions in your daily life as well, like reading or volunteering. Ask your professors if they have a need for a teaching assistant. If they have the budget, you may even be able to earn some extra cash!



5. Explore meditation options and practice mindfulness


Everyone does it, but especially as a college student, it is particularly important to avoid the constant comparison to others and, instead, to focus on your own needs. Try to imagine your success independently from your peers and you will find much less need for a competitive attitude. Yes, scholarships and academic awards are offered to students with high GPA scores, but remember to invest your energy in activities that distract from your studies as well.



6. Ask your school’s counseling center for mental health resources


Many students naturally feel anxious about leaving home for the first time. Research shows that 1 in 5 college students suffer from anxiety and depression as they adapt to their new independence from their family and friends back home. Be honest with your advisors, letting them know about your difficulties. Talk about these feelings with your new friends as well — you might be surprised by how many of them are feeling homesick too.



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7. Apply for work-study or a part-time job


Not only do college students live on a pretty tight budget, but, often, they carry a large amount of financial stress led by the forecast of financial debt in the future. If you are someone who worries about your finances, you might consider applying for a work-study or a part-time job.



8. Explore alternative education options


If you are unsure about the adjustment to life on a college campus, you might consider earning your degree online. The US accredited degree programs at University of the People, for instance, are offered tuition-free, with the goal of opening global access to higher education and enabling students to overcome financial, geographical, or personal constraints.


Associate and Bachelor’s degree programs are offered in a wide range of fields, like business, health, computer science, and education; and Master’s degree programs are offered in Business Administration (MBA) and Education (M.Ed.). Read more here about the education revolution!



9. Spend more time outside


Especially during warm months of the year, you may find it difficult to spend hours of your time in the library studying. Try running or finding an exercise class that meets outside and, of course, fits into your academic schedule.



10. Spend time with friends and family


The people you meet during college will be a part of your life even after you graduate. Try to maintain a sense of gratitude as a student, investing your time and effort into these relationships, as they will become your support network for years to come.



11. Improve your health


Although sleep and eating habits can be especially difficult to manage during your college years, this actually is the time to develop healthy patterns of behavior. Even when your life is consumed by different commitments, academic coursework, and career stress, students should remember to always put themselves first, taking time throughout the day to refocus.



12. See your doctor if necessary


We all need a little help sometimes, and college students should feel comfortable reaching out to their doctors about issues of depression or anxiety. As trained medical professionals, they can understand your situation and help guide your perspective, supporting a more positive pattern of thought and a bright future post-graduation.



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