Going off to college can be a very emotionally tumultuous experience. On one hand you may be excited for this first step towards being an adult out on your own. But it can also be a very overwhelming experience and can be a lonely one. Add to that the mental demands of college coursework and you can become depressed without even noticing it until it is really taking a toll on you. So we are here to show you how to deal with depression in college.
Depression is not mere sadness, it is a serious mental illness that can cause sadness, problems concentrating, changes in sleep pattern, changes in appetite and suicidal ideation. If you think you may be suffering from depression you will need to learn how to cope effectively, how to reduce your symptoms and how to prevent recurring depression. You will also want to learn how to address the stigma or shame that may be attached to your condition.
Statistics on Depression Among the College Population
Statistics show that approximately 41.6% of college students suffer from anxiety and 36.4% have suffered with depression. 35.8% of college students reported having relationship problems and 24.5% of participants noted they were taking psychotropic medications at the time the data is collected.
Dealing with Mental Health as a College Students
If you are struggling mentally you should limit or avoid alcohol and drugs. Planning for college is done mostly with a focus on academic work but one should also plan for their social life as well. You will want to engage in social activities that do not include alcohol and drug use and plan to engage in these activities periodically to reduce academic stress.
Ways to Minimize Your Symptoms
- Get Enough Sleep
Getting adequate amounts of sleep is vital for your physical health and your mental health as well. When you are not getting enough sleep, this can worsen your symptoms of depression. You will need approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to be the best you mentally and to perform well in school.
Encourage good sleeping habits by scheduling a sleep time and sticking to the schedule. You will also want to schedule a time for waking up and stick to that schedule as well. Create a wind down routine and make time to do this every night, overtime it will feel like less of a chore and you will be going through the motions and not even noticing you are completing your routine. Choose activities that will be relaxing and peaceful like having a warm shower, reading a book or doing some meditation. Avoid the use of your cellphone or computer as the light they emit can make it hard for you to sleep.
- Consume A Balanced Healthy Diet
There are a number of food items that will boost your mood if you consume them. You can also add foods that provide the nutrients your body needs to boost concentration and can help to improve your sleep. Along with eating better you also want to decrease the foods that aggravate your depressive episodes.
Consume foods that are high in folate and vitamin B12 such as spinach, lentils, chicken, fish and almonds.
Ensure you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D which is often added to breakfast cereals and milk.
Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and other foods that are fortified with omega-3.
Avoid foods that are high sugar such as sodas and sugary desserts. Also, limit the amount of caffeine you consume. While caffeine can provide a temporary boost in energy, it will disrupt your sleep cycle and cause you to be irritable and nervous. Also, want to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol. Excess alcohol can dehydrate and disrupt your sleep routine and quality of sleep. It can also lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease and gastrointestinal problems. If you can do without any of the items mentioned in this paragraph then you should.
If drinking is having a serious impact on your life you should seek help and medical attention. You can seek help through your campus counseling or health center or you can visit your primary care practitioner.
Exercise can be beneficial on so many levels. It can help to promote the release of brain chemicals that boost your mood. Exercise can also be a distraction from the stresses of life.
Set aside time for your preferred physical activity. Just 30 minutes, 3 days per week can improve your mood. Decide which type of activity you like and choose that one. That will make it easier for you to stick to it. So if you like nature and have a trail nearby you can take walks, or go for a jog. If you prefer the gym, you can get into one or you can watch YouTube videos at home and follow along. You can even take on a casual sport that you can enjoy with friends.
- Do Things You Love
Each week, set aside some time that will be used for socializing and fun activities. Enjoy yourself so you can lift your mood and this will help you to be more productive. You can schedule an hour that you can use for simply hanging out with friends or for a dinner or lunch date. If you are not feeling too “peopley” you can opt to do an activity you enjoy in an organization or club. You can also program in a time of day for watching a TV show or playing a game.
How to Cope With Stress
- Don’t Overdo It
It can be hard to juggle classwork, homework, extracurricular activities and a social life. You can easily end up with too much on your plate. This is especially true if you have work or family obligations as well.
Try to not take on unnecessary obligations such as extra courses and a one load of extracurricular activities. If you find your regular workload at school to be overwhelming you should talk to your academic advisor about creating a schedule that is more manageable.
- Put Your Weekly Schedule on Paper
Approach your workload in an organized way so that it does not feel too overwhelming. This way you will know all you need to do ahead of time and won’t be scurrying to figure this out each morning. Include all your classes and block out time for studying, eating, having fun and sleeping.
- Keep Track of Deadlines and Important Dates
Create a calendar or use a planner. You can also use a digital calendar such as your google calendar to stay on top of the things you need to. Use this to track important events and assignments.
- Prioritize Obligations
Each week, take some time to assess what is going on in your life. Take a look at the assignments that you have that are due and then come up with a plan for tackling the most important ones first. Then you can deal with the smaller ones that will be easier to tackle.
- Pace Yourself
Forcing yourself to keep working will only add to your stress and this is going to be counterproductive. If you are working and find yourself getting distracted you should take a couple minutes and maybe take a walk. You can also have a healthy snack or put your head down and take a nap if you are feeling sleepy.
Meditation can really help you to focus and relax. It helps you to stay in the moment. You can meditate by finding a peaceful place where there will be no distractions. Sit in a position that you find comfortable and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and if your mind starts to wander you can redirect it by again focusing on your breathing. After you have been successfully focusing on your breathing for a while, you can now think about how you are feeling both physically and mentally and acknowledge these feelings without being judgemental.
Where to Get Help
Most universities and colleges have a counseling services center. Here you should be able to meet with a counselor and get the help you need. A counselor can help you to create stronger coping mechanisms and can refer you to other mental health providers if you need more help.
If your campus does not offer counseling services you can check with a medical practitioner to get a referral or you can seek out your own therapists.
If you don’t like to ask for help, know that it is beneficial for you to get guidance to help you through the issues you are currently experiencing. Don’t think of it as help, think of it as if you are having a consultation about how to manage this area of your life where you don’t have the expertise to manage on your own.
Talk to a Doctor
If you have a student health center on campus, make an appointment with the nurse practitioner or doctor there. Explain how you are feeling an express you want to get help. They may refer you to a psychiatrist, mental health specialist or a counselor as well as they may offer tips for helping you to reduce your symptoms and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Join a Support Group
If your campus has a mental health center then you should be able to benefit from a support group. This will be made up of other students with similar issues to yours. This is great as you can identify that you are not alone in your struggles and you can find emotional support as well as get tips and tricks from others who are at different stages of their journey to treat depression.
Talk to a trusted Professor or Academic Advisor
You may talk to a trusted professor or advisor if you feel more comfortable doing that. If your depression is affecting your grades they may have noticed the change already. They may be able to help you design a workload and schedule that will be more manageable and can help to steer you in the right direction to get you connected to the resources you need the most.
Reach Out to Family and Friends
Social isolation, homesickness and loneliness can be major factors that are contributing to your depression. If you are comfortable talking to any family member or friends then you should reach out to them. Talk to them, letting them know how you feel and what you are going through.
Call your friends and family back home if you are out of town. If you are having trouble making friends you can try to join a support group. You can also join a student organization and find a way to connect with other people.
Find Help If You are Having Suicidal Feelings
If you are thinking about taking your own life, it is imperative that you get professional help immediately. Check if your campus counseling center has a crisis line. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact your local emergency services.
Overcoming the Shame and Stigma
Anxiety and depression are common for college students, so try to remember you are not alone. There is a very good chance that someone you know will have gone through the same thing. So your roommate or a classmate could be going through the same thing or could have gone through the same thing you are going through.
Educate Yourself About the Condition
Learning about depression can help you to identify the symptoms faster and can help you to go through it better. You can find more about anxiety disorders and depression in our resources section.
You can also try to find information from the health center at your school or the counseling office. Aso check the student resources website of your school. You can also check on reputable websites such as the National Institute of Mental Health’s website. You can also consider sign up for seminars or classes that are relative to what you need.
Join a Mental Health Advocacy or Awareness Organization
Check to see if your campus has any of these organizations. If not, you can search the web to find any that are in the local area. These organizations have the aim of breaking down the stigma that is associated with mental health issues. They also provide excellent support for students who are struggling with mental health issues and depression.
Here at ESTADT Psychological we are always ready to help you with how to deal with depression in college and throughout life. You can contact us for more information or to