Graduating from college is a Kodak moment in your life. It marks the transition from being a kid to being a full-fledged adult. It can also seem to be a source of relief, as release from studying means a release from all-nighters, stress, and a very tight budget.
As exciting as graduating from college may be, it is a major transition. And as with all major transitions, the change can have some pretty drastic effects on a person’s emotions. You may initially feel a surge of happiness but then be confronted with a painful emotional state: depression.
In this post, we are going to explore the phenomenon of post-graduation depression. What is it, why does it happen, and what can help?
What Is Post-Graduation Depression?
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a medical illness that is marked by an intense sadness which leads to a measurable change in your quality of life. Along with general sadness, a person may feel uninterested or repulsed by things which once gave them joy. Activities which were once exciting — like friends, hobbies, and exercise — are now out of reach due to lack of energy and interest.
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
- Feeling sad
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite and losing or gaining weight as a result
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
One in six people (16.6 percent) will experience depression at some point in their life. It is most likely to first appear around the time people graduate from college, which could be from the late teens to mid-20s.
In the U.S., suicide is the second most common cause of death in American young people between the ages of 25 and 34. By age 24, 75 percent of people who will develop a mental illness during the course of their lives have already developed it.
Depression is very common amongst college students, with 53 percent of college students saying that they have experienced depression at some point during their college career, and 32 percent of these stating that they’d considered suicide. They report that grade problems, relationship problems, loneliness, and money problems were contributing factors to their depression.
Mental health and serious depression is a major issue among college and college-aged people. Since depression is already so common among this group, it stands to reason that it will be common for those graduating college.
Post-graduation depression is depression which is triggered by graduation from post-secondary education. Despite the anticipated relief from the stress of school, the “real world” that awaits students has many of the same problems as college. Life after college can be even more stressful. The temporary gleam and glitz of graduation is quickly absorbed under the pressures of navigating a difficult work and social world.
Why Does Post-Graduate Depression Happen?
The strongest risk factors for mental health issues in the young adult age group is a history of mental illness and a family history of suicide or mental illness. But it typically takes a negative life event to precipitate depression. Recent graduates face no shortage of negative events when they leave college.
The average graduate faces a debt load of $37,172 and a competitive job market of scarce, underpaid, and insecure work. Thus, when a student leaves the college environment, they find themselves faced with a reality where they are carrying high levels of debt with no easy way of finding an adequate job to cover their living expenses and their debt repayment.
This, on its own, can be enough to trigger depression. But these aren’t the only major changes that a person is going through. A new grad may feel a sense of isolation as their social support system of college friends move away from one another. They may feel rudderless as they struggle to find a new place to live outside of the relatively sheltered environment of college. More than a third of young people are back to living with their parents well into their 30s. This can affect their self-worth and self-esteem as they feel that they are missing crucial life stages.
Young adults today live in an ultra-connected world where cell phones have changed the moment-to-moment awareness of world events and friends’ lives. While there are benefits to these technologies, cell phone use amongst young people is a risk factor for mental health issues.
When it comes to mental health, young adults share that cell phone usage causes personal dependency, demands of constant availability, and warped personal aspirations. Consequences of high mobile phone exposure include mental overload, disturbed sleep, the feeling of never being free, and feelings of guilt due to the inability to return all calls and messages.
The circumstances are perfect for post-grad depression to strike. The young adult emerging out of their bachelor’s degree comes into a harsh reality where they are under financial and social stress. The new grad puts high expectations on themselves for life after college and feels added pressure from society. The stark difference between expectation and reality can be difficult to process.
How to Navigate Post-Grad Depression
Depression affects your quality of life, productivity, and participation in social and familial life. This diminished mental state can come in the way of addressing the sources of your depression, namely getting a job and staying connected with friends. Knowing how to prevent depression is essential.
The first step in preventing post-grad depression is to start being realistic about what life will be like after college. You should prepare yourself for the fact that it’s likely going to take a few months before you can find a full-time job you enjoy and move out of your parent’s home.
It doesn’t make sense to have an abnormally negative perspective on what is going to happen. Instead, try to have a realistic vision: You may not find your dream job right away and you may initially experience some loneliness from the bustle of college social life. This is OK and almost everyone goes through it.
The second step is to be prepared. Plan on how you are going to find a job and strategize around debt repayment earlier. This can include doing internships during your education and prepping for debt repayment at an early stage. It can be talking to friends about how to stay in touch post-graduation when everyone is in a new city and dealing with new things in life.
Third, you need to start integrating stress management and anxiety reduction into your life as soon as possible. Life is extremely stressful and young adults are very susceptible to mental health issues, so you must take protective steps.
Try implementing a regular meditation practice, regular exercise, and stress-reduction tactics like breathing exercises. For some extra help, consider integrating Spire into your life. Spire tracks your breathing rate and sends you signals when it detects that your body is falling into a state of stress. As a result, you know when it’s time to take a break and do some breathing exercises, for example. It’s a great way to lower stress levels during an average day, and helps keep mental health issues at bay.
Finally, seek help from a licensed professional if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or having severe depression. The majority of those suffering from depression and mental health issues never seek help and attempt to deal with the issue alone. Just like other health issues, you need an expert to help you heal. Many communities have free mental health assistance programs or you may be able to access your parents’ insurance for mental health services.
Post, Post-Grad Depression
When you are in the midst of depression, it may seem as though there is no coming out. You may feel as though it’s impossible to ever see the light and feel as joyful as you did during your relatively carefree college days.
But once you accept that life post-college is going to be a challenge and start preparing, the transition from college to real life can be smoother. The most important thing is to seek support: Don’t try to find a job, deal with social pressures, and navigate mental illness on your own. Seek help from friends, family, and mental health professionals. This phase of life is what they are there for.