College depression: red flags and ways for you to cope with it

Despite being one of the most common mental health disorders, depression is often treated as a casual phenomenon. Whenever someone feels sad, they just say “I’m depressed” as if that were enough to justify their blues. However, when feeling down persists for a long period of time, the same idea can leave you petrified by the question—“What if it really is depression?”

The emotional and academic pressure of college is unquestionable. If you feel like you might be  suffering from depression, keep calm—the condition is recognizable and treatable. In this post, we’ll help you recognize the warning signs and gain an understanding of how to take better care of yourself when things don’t go smoothly.

Why depression and not fatigue?

A huge number of students are likely to suffer from mental health issues at some point in their academic careers. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors survey, depression takes its toll on 36.4% of college students, surpassed only by anxiety, which affects 41.6% of young people.

The fact is that college depression is the very same disorder that affects people in the workplace or in any other environment. Its key symptoms are feelings of hopelessness and seeing no point or purpose in whatever it is you’re doing. You may lose interest in your favorite activities and struggle to find anything capable of cheering you up. It’s especially hard to get your depressive state under control when you’re being held back by constant thoughts of being worthless or guilty. Low energy levels and concentration problems often add to the problem as well, even though they sometimes indicate ailments that are purely physical in nature.

In many cases, depression comes hand in hand with anxiety. That is why many students diagnosed with this condition suffer from sleep issues, irritability, and angry outbursts—all of which heavily drain the energy of those affected. Agitation and restlessness are two more indicators that you may be suffering from clinical anxiety.

If you have ever worried about having a mental health issue, you’ll certainly ask, “How can you tell the difference between depression and routine frustration?” Indeed, all of us can experience negative, pessimistic, and overwhelming emotions at times, and that’s okay. If the symptoms described above persist for a few weeks or longer, considerably impairing your everyday life, healthcare practitioners may suspect it’s depression. If you ask for help, a specialist may examine you and ask you to fill in a questionnaire before giving their diagnosis, which is the right way to approach mood disorders and treat them adequately.

college stress

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Who is at risk of getting depression in college?

Studying is stressful enough on its own to make us feel miserable. Sometimes, young people develop mood disorders when they start living on their own, taking care of bills, earning money, handling relationships, and combining them all with their studies. However, having a lot on your plate doesn’t automatically guarantee you will end up with depression.

Many scientists who have researched the issue agree that depression is caused by the disruption of interactions between various brain chemicals.

  • If there is a lack of a certain neurotransmitter, a person may experience major shifts in mood;
  • The same happens if neural receptors become too sensitive or, conversely, insensitive to any particular neurotransmitter and fail to spread messages between different areas of the brain;
  • A neural interaction also doesn’t occur if there’s a lack of certain enzymes essential to completing chemical reactions.

What does this all mean to the average student?

  1. No, you cannot have major depression based solely on how stressful your life is.
  2. Yes, you can be diagnosed positively if the disease is a part of your family history.
  3. Yes, you’re more likely to develop depression if you rely on alcohol during hard times.

Just like other mood disorders, depression has an incredibly complex nature. Simply feeling low is not enough to get diagnosed with it. Let’s explore some other reasons why you may be struggling with the routine challenges of your college life.

Struggling to cheer up in winter? Blame SAD

When the days become short, cold, and gloomy, our body naturally responds by accumulating strength and storing energy more slowly. You may experience symptoms very similar to those of depression—lethargy, irritability, problems concentrating on anything, and sleep troubles. However, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is different from major depression, and it usually passes with the onset of spring. But what can you do during the four to five months of darkness?

If your doctor diagnoses you with SAD, he or she may prescribe light therapy as a treatment. UV lamps can help your body compensate for the lack of natural sunlight. Also, exercise and spending more time outdoors will help you cheer up without the need for extra medication.

A lack of sunlight causes the production of vitamin D in the body to decrease, which, in turn, leads to the development of SAD. A healthcare practitioner may also prescribe you vitamin D supplements, which may have considerable potential in curing seasonal mood disorders.

seasonal affective disorder

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Is it essential to see a doctor?

Yes! If you feel overly exhausted for a long period of time or cannot manage your low spirits on your own, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Firstly, low energy levels may be caused by a thyroid dysfunction that should be diagnosed as early as possible. Second, routine environmental factors may cause a lack of motivation and mood swings. If that happens, a healthcare practitioner may help you compensate for the lack of sunlight even without having to take any serious medication.

Some colleges offer on-campus resources for protecting the mental health of their students. If your school has an in-house therapist, make sure you get in touch with them. Remember that almost any kind of problem that you might be facing is treatable.

Self-care techniques for beating depression

When suffering from any mood disorder, taking good care of yourself is just as important as contacting a doctor. Please make sure to eat good food and get as much sleep as you can. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may need to expand the variety of foods on your plate. This way, you can help the enzymes in your brain cells do their important jobs more efficiently.

If you struggle to relax and manage daily stress, cognitive-behavioral therapy may help you stop overreacting to unpleasant events and take control of your college life. Meditation, exercise, and bonding with friends or family also help young people to combat mood disorders.

Depression or not, a mental health problem in no way diminishes your value. Like many things in your college life, a mood disorder is just one more issue for you to work through and overcome. What you need for a start is to ask specialists for help and to believe in yourself at all times.

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Published by
Steven Bloom
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Steven is an IT student who constantly seeks new opportunities for self-development. He is also fond of popular culture and entertainment. Lately, Steven has started writing about the challenges he faces as a student. He finds it helpful to brainstorm when difficult tasks arise.
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