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Post-college depression is real. Here’s what you need to know

Feeling post-college depression? Here’s what you can do about it.

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New graduates line up before the start of a community college commencement in East Rutherford, N.J.

New graduates line up before the start of a community college commencement in East Rutherford, N.J., on May 17, 2018. Graduation can be exciting — and depressing. Here’s what to do if you’re feeling post-college depression.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

You just graduated from your university. The whole world is at your feet. It is exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. 

It doesn’t take long before all the questions start: “What are you doing next?” “Do you have a job lined up? “Where will you live?”  

Maybe you have a plan laid out for your life and career, or maybe you don’t. Either way, the pressure of decision-making post-college is a normal experience. 

Another normal experience after graduating from college is depression. 

What is post-college depression?

Depression and anxiety are increasingly prevalent among young adults in today’s society. Rates of depression among young people are double the rate of the general population, Healthline reported.  

After graduation, former students often face loneliness, stress and copious amounts of change. All of these factors are common triggers for the many individuals who have already experienced depression. Other young adults who have never experienced depression are also susceptible to post-college depression, considering that change is inherently challenging. 

In a recent Newport Institute report on post-college depression, the authors wrote, “Uncertainty and change fuel fears after graduating college, making it a uniquely stressful period of life. For many people, college graduation coincides with the key developmental transition from adolescence to adulthood. And transitions are naturally difficult. (Remember that awkward transition from tween to teen?) Periods of intense identity development are associated with a higher risk of mental health issues.” 

What can I do?

If post-graduation depression sounds familiar to you, there is hope. Below are some steps and helpful reminders as you seek to overcome depression: 

Remember that you’re not alone

If you are struggling with post-college depression, you are far from alone. It is easy to scroll through smiling Instagram photos of graduation caps and wonder if something is wrong with you. However, one in 10 adults experiences depression.

While “post-college depression” is not yet an official diagnosis according to the American Psychiatric Association’s dictionary, there has been plentiful research and therapists that have reported on the significant impacts and symptoms of this mental health condition.  

In a Washington Post article, Alaina Leary of Quincy, Massachusetts, shared, “I realized I was dealing with post-college depression specifically, because my depression was directly linked to things I had in college that I no longer had: namely, the experience of being a part of a tightknit community. Even though my partner and I are extremely close, I felt suddenly very lonely. I had co-workers, but not the kinds of relationships I had in college.” 

Juli Fraga, a San Francisco psychologist who now treats young adults, added, “Post-grad depression is under­reported because graduation is like motherhood: culturally seen as a seemingly joyful time, which makes it even more shameful for someone to admit that it’s not.” 

Ask for help

Graduation is often viewed as the final dive into full adulthood. As this change occurs, mental health disorders may flare up. Some individuals also encounter symptoms of PTSD and confront unresolved trauma. 

Do not battle these challenges alone. There are people happy and equipped to help you. However, sometimes this requires action on your part. If you are struggling, tell someone. 

Therapists and mental health experts are also prepared to assist you through this journey and provide you with skills to healthily cope during times of transition. 

If you are looking for a mental health provider, check with your health provider to see what options are available. You may also consider the following options: 

  1. Better Help: This online app and website connects individuals with licensed, trained, experienced and accredited psychologists. The goal of Better Help is to keep therapy affordable. The membership cost depends on your location, preferences and therapist availability. 
  2. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: You can call, text or chat the number “988” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, “When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing Lifeline network. These trained counselors will listen, understand how [your] problems are affecting [you], provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.”

Create healthy habits

The hardest thing to do when depression strikes is to create healthy habits. Still, making lifestyle changes is a great way to see improvement. 

When making new goals, prioritize sleep, nutrition and physical activity. This might feel overwhelming. Remember, you can always focus on one thing at a time. Here are some simple suggestions to get you started: 

  1. Take a daily walk around the block.
  2. Eliminate candy or refined sugars from your pantry. You can curb any sweet cravings with fresh fruit. 
  3. Read a book or take a bath before bed.
  4. Put away any screens one to two hours before you go to sleep.

Find hope

Overcoming depression is possible. While the road to recovery is challenging, hope always exists. Not only does hope exist, but hope also encourages recovery. Any action you put forward against depression is an act of hope. Hope produces positivity, which increases the hormones that reduce stress and promote well-being.  

According to Judith Orloff, hope can reprogram your biology. She writes, “Your autonomic nervous system, which regulates breathing, circulation, and digestion, is particularly responsive to positivity. Hope acts as a natural stress reducer, relaxing your gut, blood vessels, and bronchioles. Your system is peaceful, not constricted or tense. Plus, science suggests that hope lessens pain by increasing levels of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ biochemicals.” 

Hope also increases where solidarity exists. Seek out other individuals who are having a similar experience to you. Be open with other graduates who might be experiencing post-college depression as well. 

Remember, you are not alone. There might be someone who needs you just as much as you need them.