Why College Students are Struggling With Depression

Posted on June 27, 2022

depressed college student in empty classroom

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health was monumental across all age groups. In particular, young people struggled. For those in college, already an emotionally tumultuous time, the impact of lockdowns and virtual interactions may have been even more severe.

In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) sounded the alarm over the mental health of college students, finding that more than 36% had concerns about depression. The Healthy Minds Network’s 2020 survey of this age group found the rates of depression had risen, reaching almost half of those college students surveyed.

Causes of Depression in College Students

College is an exciting time for most, but it is also a time of significant change, which can be challenging. Leaving home, living with new people in a new place, and learning to navigate the world as an adult are major transitions. It is normal and expected for young people to have issues navigating these new things.

Adding to that challenge are many current issues — from the pandemic to systemic racism and inequality, from political unrest to shifting social pressures. Managing all of that, on top of leaving the safety net of home, can be too much for many.

Many college students have concerns about what the future holds. Will they be able to do well in college? Will they be able to pay for it? And those concerns don’t go away once they receive a diploma. Other worries are waiting. Will they find a job? Will they be able to afford to live on their own?

Managing all the changes and transitions that come during college is something that every student deals with, but some cope better than others.

Signs of Depression

Because depression is a growing concern for college students, it is crucial to recognize the symptoms. They can include:

  • Difficulty handling schoolwork
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Emotional outbursts, such as tearfulness or anger
  • Sense of being overwhelmed
  • Panic
  • Faulty self-assessments
  • Lack of energy
  • Unexplainable guilt
  • Persistent physical pain

Talk of self-harm or suicide is the extreme end of depression warning signs for college students, as is reckless behavior. If someone is displaying any of these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate help. Talk to the person, ask questions about their mental well-being, and listen to what they say. Meanwhile, help connect the person to professional help as well.

Coping with Depression in College

Each person is unique, so there is no one answer for how to treat depression in college students. Some strategies that can help college students manage their feelings of depression are:

Talking to a professional — If someone is struggling with their mental health, no matter their age, they must seek help from a trained counselor or therapist. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for college students and finding help can be lifesaving.

Find ways to manage stress — College is a stressful time for many reasons. Young people are away from home. They are juggling the demands of classes. They may be working to pay for college. All of these can weigh on their mental health. Determining what stress management techniques help a college student with all these changes is vital. Some suggestions are staying active, getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, and finding a support system.

Avoid drugs and alcohol — It may be tempting to use substances to relax or escape college stress, but the reprieve that drugs or alcohol offer does not last and can worsen many problems.

Reframe thinking — Trying to look at situations in a more positive light can, over time, help college students manage their depression. This may require taking a break from the news or certain forms of social media that can breed negative thoughts. It may mean engaging in a hobby that provides enjoyment. Whatever helps to refocus the mind in a positive direction can be helpful.

Better Emotional Preparation for College

College can be a time of fun and growth, but it is also a time of uncertainty and heightened emotions. Young people need to be prepared for the changes they are facing. This can be done before these young adults even leave home by setting a realistic view of their education and helping to address and manage any fears about the future. It is also essential that children are taught independent living skills from an early age, which can help them during the transitional college years.

A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.

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