How To Cope With Depression As A College Student
As if college was not already stressful enough, millions of students around the world are suffering from depression. They are juggling a new environment, classes, jobs, friendships, and their most formative years while suffering from depression. In fact, the percentage of adolescents and young adults suffering from Major Depressive Order has increased from 7.9% in 2006 to 12.8% in 2016. These staggering statistics have left researchers questioning how the mental health epidemic started, and what we can do to combat it.
What Is The Student Mental Health Crisis?
This term refers to two a couple of different facts surrounding college students and their mental health. First, between a quarter and a third of all college students at any given time experience mental health problems. This is a pretty significant number.
Second, in the past 20 years, there has been an extremely dramatic increase in the need for counselors and other mental health services on college campuses. Back in the ’80s, one in every ten college students could be readily characterized as needing/wanting/using some form of mental health treatment.
That number is now one in every three students. Statistics show that the “past year treatment” was at only 19% in 2007, but has risen to a staggering 34% in 2017. These trends have only continued to steadily increase and there is no sign of them slowing down. Therefore, it is a crisis.
Why Is This Happening?
The million-dollar question is why? Why have these numbers been so rapidly increasing? Once we determine the “Why” we can figure out how to help these students. Researchers have varying opinions on this and there is no concrete evidence to anything.
Many believe that we are seeing these numbers rise so quickly simply because the attitude towards mental health has changed. People are more willing to talk about it, are less ashamed of it, and more educated on it, therefore they are more likely to seek treatment. People believe that the same amount of mental illness has always been, however now people feel more comfortable to report it.
Others truly believe that there has been an actual increase in emotional distress and fragility, causing more anxiety and depression. The truth is, it is probably a combination of both. People are certainly more open and willing to utilize mental health services, but there is still a pretty large increase that can’t be entirely explained.
What Can I Do To Cope?
While research doesn’t show a super clear answer as to what is causing the student mental health crisis, we do have access to lots of resources and information on how to cope with depression. Try out some of these tips to leading a healthier lifestyle when struggling with depression.
Improve Sleep Habits
This is such a basic concept, but that does not make it any less important. Put depression aside, there are a million ways that we suffer when we are sleep deprived. College students are the most sleep-deprived of the population. They have so many responsibilities such as schoolwork, jobs, and internships. Not to mention, they are trying to have a social life. Bedtime is usually the first to be cut short and is often pushed to last on the list of priorities. This has to stop. Sleep is critical to students and their mental health. It should be a top priority, especially for those suffering from a mental illness.
Exercise is another hallmark of good overall health. It strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, reduces body fat, and improves your strength. In addition to that physical health, exercise has been shown to have a ton of mental health benefits. For example, it has proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It might seem daunting as a college student experiencing depression to imagine finding the motivation or time to exercise, but it can seriously improve your health. Most universities have lots of resources available. They feature weight rooms, cardio machines, swimming pools, basketball and tennis courts, etc. You can also join a sports team. This is a fantastic way to keep active and focus your time and energy into something positive.
Seek Professional Help
While things like exercise and great sleep schedules can help a ton, it is important that you get a professional involved when you are suffering from mental illness. Trained and licensed mental health professionals can provide support in helping you to find relief from your symptoms. Going to therapy will help you identify what issues are worsening your symptoms and what you can do to combat them. Your college or university may even offer counseling services for free. Not to mention, therapists on college campuses will often have been hired for their ability to connect with and support college students. It is also important to have someone like a therapist on campus who knows what you are going through. This way if it is affecting your school life, you can request accommodations.
Mindfulness is defined as staying aware and conscious in the present moment. For college students, this is not something they are used to. Often times college students find themselves trying to juggle a million different commitments. Between friends, schoolwork, a job, a sport, etc it can be hard for students to stay calm and focused. Practicing mindful exercises that focus on your mental health such as weekly therapy, meditation exercises, and yoga.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that mindfulness-based therapies can be helpful in not only treating depression but also in reducing relapse rates among individuals diagnosed with depression. Mindful meditation has even been proven to boost your serotonin levels, therefore boosting your mood along with it. Mediation can also be used as a sort of coping mechanism to refocus when you are feeling depressed. These exercises can be practiced anywhere. The people around you most likely won’t notice that you are doing them.
Avoid Drugs & Alcohol
Alcohol and drugs have become a norm in college culture. At some schools, it is hard to have a social life without constantly being surrounded by it. Alcohol, substance abuse and depression often go hand in hand. Frequently people who are struggling with depression will turn to drugs or alcohol for help relaxing, getting their mind off things, having fun, or to forget about their troubles. This can be toxic for someone suffering from depression. It is important to know that although they might feel great temporarily, substance abuse will only worsen the symptoms of depression over time.
Try Out Alternative Treatments
There are tons of alternative treatments that studied have shown help to treat depression that you may not be aware of. They may not all work for every single person, but they can be groundbreaking for your depression. Some of these treatments include acupuncture and nerve stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), Ketamine, and electroconvulsive therapy that stimulates the brain, just to name a few.
Explore Medication Options
Medication is something you will want to explore with both your primary care doctor and your mental health professional if you believe your symptoms are severe enough. Your doctor can help you rule out or treat any medical issues that may be contributing to symptoms of depression. Sometimes psychotherapy is not enough for more severe forms of depression and you, your therapist, and your doctor may decide that medication would be helpful. It may make you nervous, but antidepressants can be life-changing for a person who has suffered from long term depressive disorder.
Strengthen Your Social Support System
College can mean moving far away from the comfort of your family and friends you have known your whole life. Obviously, this creates a ton of stress, especially for those suffering from depression. The International Journal of Mental Health Systems found that social support minimized the effects of stress on depression for college students. If you are feeling isolated, try joining a club, putting together a study group, spend time with your roommate, or find a local cause that you are passionate about.
Set Boundaries For Yourself & Others
One common symptom of depression is feeling worthless or guilty. Sometimes when we feel worthless or guilty we have a hard time saying no, or setting boundaries in our best interest because we are more worried about what the other person wants or needs than what we want or need. College students often feel pressured to "enjoy every moment" or "seize the day." This makes them say yes to things that they shouldn’t. Students should recognize that they can only do so much and make a conscious effort to only commit to things that bring them happiness or make them better. This can mean disappointing some friends and can be awfully hard, but will be much more rewarding after you have done so.
Coping with depression as a college student presents unique challenges, but they can be overcome. We hope these strategies are helpful as you work to maintain your mental health... and pursue your degree.