Depression is a common occurrence among students of all ages, whether you’re in high school, college, or grad school.
The Healthy Minds Study in 2020 found that of almost 33,000 college students in the United States, 50% of them had depression or anxiety (or both).
When you consider the stresses that college students face, that number isn’t too surprising.
Final exams and the pressure to keep up an active social life while navigating lots of new life experiences can be pretty tough to balance. Not to mention, for those who have to balance work, school, and family responsibilities, it can be even more overwhelming.
Depression isn’t just limited to college students, though. It can first start in elementary school, middle school, or high school.
The average age of depression onset is the late teens to mid-20s, and 1 out of every 15 adults will experience some type of depression.
Even though depression in students isn’t uncommon, it’s important to take it seriously. Depression can impact nearly every area of your life — from studying and classes to your social life. In some cases, depression can also cause suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.
In students, depression may show up in some specific ways that aren’t quite so obvious at first.
For example, a student with depression might suddenly avoid meeting up with friends when previously they were pretty social. If this starts becoming a regular occurrence, it could be a symptom of depression.
Final exams or big projects can certainly cause anxiety for students. But if you find it hard to shake the worry even after your exam or deadline has passed, it may be a good idea to review whether you’re experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder.
If you suspect you may be going through depression, you’re not alone.
You may be experiencing depression if you’ve had some of the below symptoms most of the time for the last 2 weeks:
- ongoing feelings of sadness
- being on-edge or snapping at people
- low self-esteem
- feeling like you’re not “good enough”
- finding it hard to sleep or sleeping too much
- eating less or more than you usually do
- low energy
- difficulty remembering things
- feeling like you don’t want to do anything
- having suicidal thoughts
- feeling physically ill without knowing why
- isolating or avoiding friends
- changes in weight
Some people might also notice an increase in alcohol or drug use. Students, whether they’re in high school or college, may have experimented with drugs or alcohol.
Depression might make students feel the need to turn to substances more often as a way to cope. If this isn’t addressed, it could turn into a substance use disorder.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project provides crisis support for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Call their hotline at 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678.
- Contact the teen-to-teen peer hotline, Teen Line, at 800-852-8336 or text TEEN to 839863.
Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
What could be causing your depression? There are a number of factors that might contribute to developing depression, and many people can have different causes.
In some cases, your genes can come into play. Having a close relative, like a parent or sibling, with depression can increase the chances that you experience depression. But genetics are not a guarantee that you’ll have depression yourself.
If you went through a traumatic experience, that could also increase your likelihood of having depression. Various forms of abuse, losing a loved one, and similar situations could usher in depression.
Big changes can be a trigger as well. Some students may experience depression when they transition from middle school into high school, for instance. This can be a major stressor for students.
Leaving home to go to college for the first time can also bring on depression since there are so many things to figure out all on your own — from class schedules to dorm life and everything in between. Furthermore, final exams can put a lot of pressure on students and weeks of studying can feel isolating.
Finally, many people with depression may simply have an imbalance of chemicals within their bodies. They may not have experienced trauma or gone through a stressful life event, but they’re still experiencing depression.
All of these causes of depression are valid and anyone experiencing depression deserves compassionate, supportive help.
No matter what the cause of depression, there are ways to help prevent it.
It can be all too easy to have exercise or physical movement low on the priority list as a student. After all, it’s mentally tiring to learn for several hours per day. You also probably have quite a bit of homework waiting for you to complete after classes end.
Making exercise and movement a priority can help you ward off depression, so it can really help to pencil in some exercise time on your schedule.
You don’t necessarily have to go to a gym to fit in some activity — you could simply go for a quick 15-minute walk after school. As an added bonus, this activity can help give your brain a break, so you have a clearer mind as you work on any assignments.
Another important key in preventing depression is to socialize — you want to avoid isolating yourself.
Spending time with supportive friends and family brings many benefits, not least of which is that it can help stop depression from creeping up.
For college students, scheduling a weekly study session with a classmate at a local coffee shop can work wonders for mental health. After all, it can be really helpful to share what’s going on in your life with a friend. They’re often experiencing something similar and that can leave you feeling less lonely.
Attending social events like a football game or even volunteering with a favorite nonprofit are both excellent ways to connect with other students.
Having a regular, healthy sleep schedule can help prevent depression.
It might take some time to find your rhythm, but keep at it — making a plan to try and fall asleep at the same time each night can do wonders for your energy levels through the day.
Try reading a book, doing some gentle breathing exercises, or listening to a meditation podcast before bed to help you fall asleep. Keeping active throughout the day can help you feel more tired when bedtime arrives, too.
Preventing depression in the first place is worth the effort. However, if you find yourself feeling depressed, there are several treatment options you can try.
Many medications exist for people going through depression. A variety of different therapy types are also available, and you may be able to access it through your school.
It can be overwhelming to explore medications or therapy options on your own. Scheduling an appointment with a counselor or other mental health pro can be important for managing your depression.
If you think you might have depression, getting help is a critical first step. By reaching out, you’re taking an important step in protecting your mental health.
Other students are going through similar things. In fact, many students have reported that they don’t think negatively about someone reaching out for a little help.
As a student, you have access to many resources when it comes to mental health and depression. High school and middle school students can reach out to a guidance counselor to help navigate depression. College students typically have access to an on-campus health center.
Check with them to see if they offer mental health services at a reduced price. It may even be included with your tuition at no extra cost to you.
Reaching out to a trusted relative or close friend can be another good idea. Be certain that this person is someone you trust who will help you find the resources you need. A religious figure, mentor, or close family friend are good places to start if you’re thinking about talking over your options.
Remember that you’re not alone. You’re brave for reaching out for help with your depression!