Tips to Beat Depression in College

Have you been feeling under the weather, sad, or moody? These emotions are acceptable. Normal, even, including among college students. College is an exciting time in the lives of young people but it can also be equally challenging. As a freshman, you may be leaving home for the first time, learning independence as you find your way in and out of the campus. Sometimes, the weight of the changes you undergo during your college years can trigger depression.

In addition to feelings of nostalgia, you become stressed out realizing you will be attending tough classes, meeting new and “different” people, and getting a lot less sleep. You are at your most vulnerable, and it is smart that you acknowledge and come to the decision to seek help. If feelings of sadness persist for weeks or months, you may be having more trouble than you thought you would as you adjust to your new environment. You may be going through depression.

What is Depression?

desperation - depression

Depression goes by many names, “the blues”, major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression. All these names point to the same symptom – deep sadness that you can’t just shake off and lasts a long time. Depression is a serious mood disorder. While a common occurrence, it causes severe symptoms that affect the mental and physical faculties of an individual. A depressive state or episode is typically accompanied by the feeling of hopelessness; there’s just no finding no pleasure even in the most meaningful things.

As defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • The feeling of sadness or depressive mood
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite and eating pattern
  • Weight loss or gain which is not attributable to dieting
  • Disturbed sleeping pattern – lack of or too much sleep
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Procrastination or slowed movements and speech
  • A sense of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of concentration, difficulty in thinking and decision-making
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

When these symptoms last for at least two weeks, they are consistent with depression.

woman - depression

Among the list of mental disorders that affect millions of people worldwide, depression or major depression is the most common. Based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States have experienced at least one major depressive episode.

These statistics represent 6.7% of the entire population of all adults in the country:

NSDUH Survey - depression

Said survey showed that major depression is more prevalent among adult females with an 8.5% to 4.8% percentage ratio compared to males. The most harrowing fact is the prevalence of major depressive episodes was highest among young adults aged 18-25 years old (10.9%). This age group represents college and university students. In 2016, approximately 10.3 million US adults were affected by a major depressive episode with severe impairment.

Types of Depression

Depression takes many forms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these are some of the most common depressive disorders:

  • Major depressive disorder or major depression. Symptoms may take a toll on the individual’s daily activities such as studying, eating, and sleeping that are essential to college students’ health. Major depressive disorder may occur only once but can come back repeatedly.
  • Dysthymic disorder or dysthymia, a mild, chronic type of depression. Dysthymia usually lasts for 2 years or more. It is relatively less severe than major depression but the symptoms can be so debilitating that they ruin an individual’s routine. Students with dysthymia could also experience a major depressive episode in their lifetimes and this should be cause for alarm.
  • Minor depression shares similar symptoms with major depression and dysthymia. However, minor depression is less severe and usually lasts a shorter period. It should be noted that when minor depression is left untreated, it may develop into a major depressive disorder.

Depression also includes these types:

  • Psychotic depression, a type of severe depression accompanied by some form of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that begins during the winter months and wears off during spring and summer because of the effect of the changing seasons.

Depression in College

Student life is not easy. Despite the idyllic image we often paint of the university, most people see it as an unhealthy place. “The best years of your life” might be an exaggeration to hide the darkness college brings out in students. Small or large, a setback could push you to the edge. Whether or not you have previously been depressed, college can act as a catalyst for the onset of various mental health issues. For most students, college life is definitely stress-inducing with all its demands. And with the many other issues and changes they face as young people, the timing couldn’t be worse.

In 2009, a nationwide survey was conducted among college students in various institutions. The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) revealed that 30% of college students have reported having felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function”.

Depression is a common mental health issue among college students. The various transitions they go through make them particularly vulnerable to depression. College is a challenging time for both traditional and non-traditional students. In addition to the academic stress related to class loads, students are forced to face adulthood at an earlier age. The more adult-like responsibilities they take on, the more they become prone to mental health problems. College kids have not yet fully mastered the skills of independence and the maturity of adulthood. Because of this, they experience major depressive episodes coupled with severe impairment.

Severe impairments interfere with a person’s ability or drive to carry out daily activities – major or minor. College students who go through this mental disorder are often distressed and incapable of maintaining the desire to attend class and take active part in extracurricular activities. 

Tips for Dealing with Depression

When depression hits you, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. That said, however, do not compare your experiences to that of another. In the battle with the disorder, no two people’s experiences are exactly the same. One thing is for sure, though, is that depression doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can become a depressive or experience a major depressive episode at any point in their lives.

Seek help.

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Depression, whether mild or severe, is treatable. Mild depression can turn into a more serious state of depression when left unchecked. Getting help is the best step to achieving recovery. Seek assistance from a doctor or a mental health professional.

Remember, depression is a common illness that affects millions. You should not feel alone, because you aren’t. the university counseling services in your school are willing to help you. The student center in your college or dorm can be a source of refuge as well. Counseling centers offer round-the-clock free or low-cost mental health services. At this stage, a professional may be able to diagnose and treat your depression.

Plan your day carefully.

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Allot time every day for your class work. The feeling that you get from taking control of your day gives a sense of satisfaction. Prioritizing can allow you to focus on what matters and what needs to be done.

A plan will help you get you out of bed. Every day, remind yourself to take a small action toward overcoming your depression. Focus on reframing negative thoughts or perceptions and unreasonable expectation of others. Know your strengths and capabilities, and explore ways to improve them. Let go of your unhealthy or unattainable goals.

Get enough sleep.

sleeping man - depression

Fatigue, when constant, can trigger depression. Make sure that you get seven of eight hours of sleep a night to maintain stability in your well-being.

Stop deferring from doing important class works until the wee hours of the night. When you procrastinate and work through late evenings too much, you wake up exhausted and groggy. This will alter your mood and perception, and you can end up feeling indisposed the entire day. Focus on your overall wellbeing, by first adopting a healthy sleeping schedule.

Do activities that you enjoy.

happy feet up - depression

May it be sports, going outdoors, fraternities and sororities, or student journalism, do what interests you. In order to take a closer step towards overcoming depression, find and do things that relax and energize you. Aside from the opportunity to meet like-minded people in the group, these activities may break your daily pattern of activities, which could be crucial to ending your depressive cycle.

While it is not easy to find pleasure in just about anything, you can push yourself to do things that will positively impact your day. Who knows, you might actually enjoy whatever it is you choose to do. Start with your former hobby—go back to the activity you used to enjoy the most.

While you try your best to enjoy life, do not expect to feel better outright. Appreciate the gradual changes in your mood. In due time, you will feel more upbeat and energetic.

Welcome support from other people.

support from people - depression

People find comfort in connection because humans are conditioned to connect. It is a fundamental aspect of life, and without social connections, we all fall apart.

Welcome help from others – a roommate, a classmate, or an old friend. Friendships can make a tough situation and a strange and alienating place feel a lot like home. Support brings emotional comfort while reducing isolation. Let these people come into your life. Let them make you realize that you are not alone. Some may have gone through the same experience and could offer you helpful advice while you recover. There is no shame in accepting help from those who care. 

Try relaxation methods.

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Simple relaxation techniques may positively impact your mood. It will help you escape stress and anxiety. Most importantly, it lets you manage your depression better and more consciously.

The idea of relaxation differs from one person to another. This may include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, exercise, a warm bath, or long walks. Whatever reasonable activity that you find relaxing and alleviates your stress and discomfort, make it an outlet to relieve depression.

Try these methods:

  • Deep breathing: Deep, slow breathing exercise can help you let out anxiety and relax your entire body from head to toe. Integrate this exercise throughout the day or whenever the need arises.
  • Exercise: Try Yoga or any form of exercise. It offers a great physical benefit aside from relaxation. It incorporates meditation, balance, and deep breathing to encourage a positive mood.
  • Aromatherapy: Surround yourself with aromatic scents. This is a hassle-free technique that will surely lighten your mood.
  • Scribble your stress away: Doodling out your stress has a way of calming you down. Jotting down or scribbling on your notebook allows you to express your fears, concerns, and frustrations. Take a few moments each day to doodle or scribble.

Make time for yourself.

happy man - depression

Allow yourself to take well-deserved breaks. Experience life outside of the university; your life is limited to academics! Indulge in the visual or guided imagery of a relaxing vacation. Choose to go where you know you will be happy. College life does not need to be confined to the classroom or within the campus. Make the effort to experience all the sensations in your mind.

If a vacation is not possible, dedicate a few minutes a day to yourself. Focusing on yourself is an energizing experience that can bring you purpose and control over the events in your life. It is a crucial step to recovery.

Eat right.

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What you put in your body directly impacts your overall psyche or perception of self. Eat healthily. Take foods that negatively affect your mood out of your diet such as caffeine, alcohol, and food containing high levels of chemical preservatives.

More importantly, don’t skip meals. Skipping meals may add to your irritability and exhaustion. Eat at least every three hours. Minimize sugar, as well. Taking too much sugar brings the instant rush but quickly crashes your mood and energy. Cut out food that will eventually do more harm than good.

Work towards recovery.

talk to people and recover - depression

Be an active participant in your journey to recovery. This is the most important step in combating depression. Reclaim your college life and experience. Take responsibility for your life and your life choices.

You have the power to turn your story from victim to survivor. Gather all the strength you have in you to do it. Do not wallow in self-pity and instead focus on making a positive impact on others. It may appear to you that you are batting something so great but if it’s of any help to your change your perspective, realize that someone out there might have it worse.

A victim gives up at the first sight of struggle, a survivor puts one foot forward to move on and recover.

Who do you choose to be?


Depressed and contemplating suicide?

Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Lines are open 24/7.

If you know someone who is depressed and contemplating suicide:

Please call Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Please visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website for more information on mental health issues. Follow NIMH on Twitter (@NIMHgov)YouTubeFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.