While many people associate graduating college with celebration, happiness, and new beginnings, graduation can be a huge source of stress for many young adults. For some graduates, it can even cause significant mental health effects, resulting in a phenomenon known as post graduation depression.
Everyone is unique and will experience a lot of different emotions when they graduate from college. Some graduates may feel excitement towards a new stage of life and look forward to a career or moving out of town, while others may be filled with more stress and sadness during this transitional time. If you just graduated and you’re feeling down and overwhelmed, you’re far from the only one.
Here’s what you need to know about post grad depression and how you can cope with it.
What is post graduation depression?
As the name implies, post grad depression is depression that crops up after you graduate from college or university. However, it is not an official diagnosis in and of itself, rather it describes when the condition of depression occurs after graduation.
It’s totally normal to feel some sadness when you leave college, especially if you’ve had a great experience there. You’re closing out an amazing chapter of your life, and you may feel like you’re mourning the loss of that time of your life. If you’re just feeling a bit sad, but your functioning otherwise is not impaired, it’s likely you’re simply experiencing post graduation blues. This should pass naturally as time goes on and as you settle into your new routine and lifestyle and make the transition from a college student to an independent young adult.
That being said, it is definitely possible that your blues could run deeper and enter into the territory of depression, which is about way more than just feeling sad.
The American Psychological Association defines depression as “a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.” On top of these emotions, depression often comes along with physical symptoms and both cognitive and social changes. Depression is also formally referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder.
Depression symptoms include:
- Sadness or emptiness
- Feeling anxious
- Experiencing guilt or worthlessness
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Having trouble with concentration or memory
- Changes to sleep patterns
- Changes to your appetite
- Aches, pains, and GI issues without a defined physical cause
- Thinking about death
- Having suicidal thoughts
In order to be officially diagnosed with clinical depression/major depressive disorder, you have to experience some of these symptoms “most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In other words: these symptoms pretty much take over your day-to-day life.
All of these depression symptoms can make it really hard to function, let alone enjoy life, especially in cases of severe depression. In these instances, even doing the simplest of tasks (like getting out of bed, showering, cooking a meal, or doing laundry) can feel like moving mountains, and you might find yourself isolating and withdrawing from your friends and family. You may not feel enjoyment while you do things that you used to have fun doing when you were a college student or younger. On top of this, depression can potentially get in the way of your post-college job search and settling into your new “adult” lifestyle, since you may be majorly lacking motivation and energy.
Not to mention, depression can lead to further mental health complications such as substance abuse, anxiety, and self harm. That’s why it’s so important to get help for depression when you first start to notice it, so that it doesn’t result in even more struggles for you.
What causes post graduation depression?
There are plenty of reasons why your mental health can be affected and depression can pop up after graduation.
First of all, any major life change is a risk factor for developing depression. The transition from college life to the real world can be jarring and contribute to this. For example, you may be used to a specific routine of going to classes on the weekdays, living with roommates in a dorm, and having a solid friend group that you hang out with. When you graduate college, you lose the routine you were so comfortable with, get taken away from your living situation, and become physically distanced from your college friends. Not to mention, you’ll go through the change of being a student to an independent young adult working a job and beginning your career.
Aside from the transition overall, many aspects of life after university or college can put a strain on the mental health of a recent college graduate.
Some of these factors include:
- The anxiety associated with your job search
- Coping with rejection from job applications and interviews
- Major changes to lifestyle and routine
- Leaving behind friends
- Moving to a different city or state away from your old college
- The stress of paying off student loan debt
- Starting a new job
- Navigating adulthood independently
On top of the difficulties of life after graduation, there are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing major depressive disorder, to begin with. Some of these risk factors include:
- Having other mental health conditions
- Having past trauma
- Having a family history of major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions
- Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and experiencing a lack of support
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Having a chronic illness
- Medication side effects
How to combat post graduation depression
There are various treatment methods for depression, whether the condition is associated with graduation or not. The two most common and proven treatments involve talk therapy and/or medication. Oftentimes, a combination of both is the most helpful for people who are struggling with their mental health, including post college depression.
When it comes to therapy, various types of therapy may be used, depending on you and your specific needs. One of the most popular therapies for depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps to shed light on your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, helping you understand how they all play into each other and affect your mental health. This therapy can help you challenge and change negative thoughts, learn new ways to manage your depression symptoms, and handle difficult emotions.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills can also help people with depression cope by learning skills such as:
- Distress tolerance
- Interpersonal effectiveness
- Emotional regulation
When it comes to medication, antidepressants may be prescribed to you if a psychiatrist thinks you could benefit from them. There are various different types of antidepressants, and your psychiatrist will work to determine which is the best option for you.
However, it's important to keep in mind that meds can take a while to kick in. If your psychiatrist prescribes you an antidepressant, you may need to wait at least four to eight weeks to feel the full effects of it. Sometimes it can take some trial and error to find the right medication or combination of medications that work best for you.
Lifestyle changes and self-care can also make a big difference in managing depression, alongside therapy and medication. Some tips include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough high quality sleep
- Finding creative outlets (like art or music) for your emotions
- Leaning on your loved ones for social support
- Practicing mindfulness or meditation
- Nurturing your own strengths
You can also ask yourself what some of your favorite aspects of college were, or what you feel like benefited your mental health while you were a student. From there, you can see what you might be able to incorporate into your new life after college. For example, if your favorite part was your friend group, you can organize FaceTime catch ups with your friends, and also make an effort to cultivate a new friend community wherever you end up. Or, if you really loved playing a college sport and staying physically active, you can look into local leagues for young adults playing your sport of choice.
What to do if you’re having a mental health crisis
Some people with depression have thoughts about suicide or harming themselves in some way. If you’re currently feeling like this, you do not have to go through it alone. There are free and confidential resources that are available 24/7 for immediate help during a mental health crisis, including:
- 988: 988 is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 9-8-8 to get connected with a trained crisis counselor in your area. An online chat option is available, as well.
- Crisis Text Line: Crisis Text Line is a text message-based service. Text HOME to 74174 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor. You can do this on WhatsApp, too.
- The Trevor Project: If you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community and want to speak to someone who specializes in the unique challenges you face, contact The Trevor Project. Call them at 1-866-488-7386, text them ‘START’ to 678-678, or use their online chat.
While these are great resources in the case of an emergency, they are not a substitute for depression treatment. They’re meant to help in acute mental health crises, but they are not long-term therapy options. It’s very important to seek formal treatment from a mental health professional after any crisis like this so that you can learn how to cope with these difficult emotions and prevent further emergencies in the future.
How Charlie Health can help
If you’re a recent college graduate and you think that you could be struggling with post graduation depression or any other mental health condition, Charlie Health may be able to help.
Our personalized Intensive Outpatient Program provides mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families who deal with a variety of struggles, including depression and other co-occurring conditions.
At Charlie Health, every client is matched with a therapist who fits their specific needs, and will also be matched with a group of peers who are from similar backgrounds with similar struggles to help them feel less alone.
Coping with post graduation depression can be very difficult, but you can get through this. It’s important to get help now to prevent further complications and to simply enjoy your post grad life. With treatment, you can feel better and experience a higher quality of life and improved mental health –– help is here now. Get started.