Moving away from home, spending long hours studying, and making new friends are often part of starting college. These things can be exciting, but they can be scary, too. Sometimes they can lead to depression.
Depression is the second most common mental illness in college students. It can be mild, moderate, or severe. For some, depression can lead to low grades, problems with alcohol or drugs, and even suicide.
Causes of Depression in College
Depression can be caused by any stressful life change. College is often the first big life change for young adults. It can bring many new things, including:
- Having a roommate
- Managing your time
- Doing your own laundry or shopping
- Harder classes
- Managing your money
- Changes in relationships back home
- Making new friends
- Questions about your sexual or gender identity
- Having sex
- Worries about life after graduation
You may look forward to some or all these changes, but sometimes they can be overwhelming.
What is Depression?
Depression is more than just feeling down. It is an illness that can last for weeks, months, or even years. Signs of depression are:
- Feeling sad, worried, or empty
- Feeling hopeless, guilty, worthless, and/or helpless
- Feeling restless or irritable
- Losing interest in hobbies you used to enjoy
- Feeling very tired or low energy
- Trouble focusing, remembering, and/or making decisions
- Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Eating more or less than usual and/or sudden weight gain or loss
- Thinking about death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Getting Used to College Life
If you or someone you know is having trouble with the stresses and changes of college life, here are some coping tips from The Jed Foundation:
- Try to figure out different ways to react.
- Reach out to your friends, family, or loved ones.
- Stay active. Exercise is a proven way to lift your mood.
- Stick to a routine.
- Go to classes even if you do not feel like it. Falling behind can make things worse.
- Keep a healthy diet.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
- Get enough sleep.
If you think you are depressed, it is important to ask for help.
Talk to your regular doctor or visit the student health or counseling center. A healthcare professional will ask about your symptoms. They can refer you to a mental health specialist if needed.
Counseling and medicine are the most common treatments for depression. Counseling can help you understand and think differently about problems in your life. It can also help you learn new skills to cope with life’s ups and downs. Medication can reduce or relieve your symptoms. Sometimes counseling and medicine are used together, especially if your symptoms are severe.
Some students have such severe depression that they think of killing themselves. If you have thoughts of suicide, it is an emergency. Seek help from your college health service, counseling center, or the nearest hospital emergency department right away. Tell friends, a trusted staff or faculty member, and family members how you are feeling. This can help you can get the support you need. And try to remember that depression is an illness that can be managed. You can get help and feel better.
Even though college can be a difficult time, it is a chance for you to grow and change for the better. Depression does not have to get in the way of having a fun and successful time in college.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Depression. Jed Foundation website. Available at: https://www.jedfoundation.org/depression/. Accessed September 12, 2020.
Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression. Updated February 2018. Accessed September 12, 2020.
Pedrelli P, Nyer M, Yeung A, Zulauf C, Wilens T. College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations. Acad Psychiatry. 2015;39(5):503-511. doi:10.1007/s40596-014-0205-9.
Villatte A, Marcotte D, Potvin A. Correlates of depression in first-year college students. Canadian Journal Higher Ed. 2017; Volume 47 (No. 1;114-136). Available at https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1140055.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 9/14/2020