While college graduation is a time for celebration and excitement, the feelings after the fact can be intense — and even concerning. After throwing their caps in the air and receiving their diploma, many students leave campus feeling hopeless and worried about their future. When these symptoms flare up consistently and constantly in the months after graduation, a student may be experiencing post-college depression.
What is post-college depression?
Although not an official or clinical term, post-college depression is a kind of depression triggered by the life transitions after college graduation. Many students use this term to qualify extreme sadness and decreased functioning after they graduate. Because leaving college often means leaving the security of a campus, an academic schedule and a supportive network of friends, life directly after graduating — without all of these things — can bring on intense feelings of sadness and decreased productivity.
College graduates also may face post-college depression as they deal with the challenges in their adult life. This can mean dealing with job rejections, financial struggles or even simply a lack of routine.
Why is post-college depression so common?
For many college students, graduating means going through one of life’s biggest transitions. Students will often move away from the towns and homes they’ve lived in for a majority of their lives to place they’ve never been before. This may be the first time they’ve had to financially support themselves or even secure a full-time job. They may be unfamiliar with their new home, hopeless about their job prospects or simply missing their college lifestyle.
Post-college depression is also common among students who had positive college experiences. If a student enjoyed their college life, they may have relied on their friends, professors and peers for support. They may have thrived in the routine of a collegiate lifestyle or enjoyed the many extracurricular opportunities the college had to offer. Graduating means leaving much of that experience behind and moving into an adult life that offers a very different lifestyle.
Signs of depression after college
- Intense, constant feelings of sadness.
- Feeling disconnected from friends and family.
- Not finding enjoyment in things that used to bring enjoyment.
- Addiction or substance abuse.
- Difficulty completing tasks you used to be able to complete.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- An abnormally negative perspective on the future and life.
- Changes in appetite and losing or gaining weight because of them.
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
- Inability or little motivation to get out of bed.
- A general sense of hopelessness.
What to do about it.
1. Check in with yourself.
If you think you may be experiencing post-college depression, it’s important to check in with yourself and think about your symptoms. Consider how your lifestyle has changed since you graduated from college. Are you still reaching out to friends, even if you’re not living close by? Do you still have the motivation to complete and finish tasks? Are you participating in activities you enjoy? Are you maintaining some sort of routine? Understanding where and how you’re struggling will help you make a plan to work through your difficulties.
2. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically.
Once you’ve checked in with yourself about your symptoms, try to take care of yourself in the most productive ways you can. This means maintaining good physical health as well as working on your mental health. Eat foods that nourish and energize your body along with foods that make you happy. Exercise when you can, even if it’s just a short, brisk walk. Try to practice good hygiene and sleep habits, too.
3. Reach out to someone.
Although post-college depression can make you feel isolated, you don’t have to work through your depression alone. Reaching out to a close friend or family member can help you voice what you’re going through. Talking through your symptoms with someone is not only cathartic but also a great way to let someone know about your situation. This way, they can help you move forward and be a resource if you’re having trouble in the future.
4. Try to focus on what’s realistic.
Being unable to find a job immediately after college doesn’t mean you have to give up on all of your dreams, and being lonely when you move to a new place doesn’t mean you’ll be alone forever. Instead, focus on what’s realistic. It may take a few months to secure a job, and it may take a few jobs to find something that you really love. That’s okay. Accepting these facts as a possible reality will help you cope when you face similar struggles. While you may feel lonely, know that the loneliness doesn’t have to last forever. It’s ok to feel a little isolated after college. Reaching out to friends and being social in your new home can help ease you into your new lifestyle.
5. Add structure to your life.
Recent graduates struggle with the transition to an adult lifestyle, which often differs vastly from the lifestyle of a college student. At college, there are classes, professor meetings, practices, rehearsals, club get-togethers and even social events like dinners and parties. Moving into the “real world,” students who don’t have a work schedule may struggle to find a routine. Adding structure can help recent grads cope with this loss of routine. This structure doesn’t have to be all-consuming; rather, it can be as simple as sleeping and eating at similar times every day.
6. Stay involved with the things that you love.
One of the great things about college is that there are so many opportunities to pursue a variety of interests. Yet once a student leaves campus, these opportunities aren’t always as accessible. Instead of giving up the things you love, it’s important to find ways to keep pursuing these activities. If you played a sport in college, try to find a casual team in your new neighborhood or sign up for a league at your local gym. If you wrote for the newspaper but aren’t going into a writing job, offer your abilities on a freelance basis to companies who are looking for articles. Did you perform in a choir or star in student theater? Community theater offers low-pressure gigs to interested actors and singers. Whether it’s volunteering or Bollywood dance, there are opportunities to pursue in the real world — they just might look a bit different from college extracurriculars.
7. Make a manageable plan.
Post-college depression is often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness about the future. Making a manageable plan can help you cope with this feeling and get you on track. While you want to dream big, it’s important to make a plan with realistic steps to get there. At first, you may only be able to apply for one job a day or reach out to one friend a week — that’s okay! This plan should work to your ability and what’s right for you, not anyone else.
8. If you’re still struggling, seek professional help.
Post-college depression may be common among young graduates, but if your symptoms persist far beyond graduation and after attempts to cope, you may want to see professional help. Healthcare databases can offer information on therapists, psychiatrists and counselors who may be able to provide the care you need. Professional help for depression often includes talk therapy and medication as the first lines of treatment.
Adjusting to post-college life can be one of the most difficult transitions in a young adult’s life. Yet while post-college depression is common, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything recent graduates can do about it. By checking in about their symptoms, reaching out to others, adding structure and making a manageable plan, graduates with post-college depression can be well on their way to successfully starting their new adult life.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.