Post-graduation depression occurs for some people when they graduate from college or university. Causes include financial stress, changes to your routine, and the disruption of your social circle.
It seems counterintuitive that achieving a goal like graduation could lead to symptoms of depression.
But many young adults experience a period of sadness after they’ve left the comfort of a predictable class schedule and the company of their school friends.
Post-graduation depression isn’t an official condition. Instead, it’s a short-term period of depression symptoms that occur because of a particular life situation.
Many people experience post-graduation depression. It’s usually temporary, and there are steps you can take to get through it.
Also known as “graduation blues,” post-graduation depression is an experience shared by many former students. You’re not alone if you feel like your life after school isn’t shaping up the way you’d hoped.
While it’s unclear how many grads experience mood disturbances during their transition out of school, statistics indicate that young adults experience depression at a higher rate than average.
For example, 2005 – 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that adults 18 to 25 years of age experience major depressive episodes more than any other age group. This difference has increased in recent years to about double the rate of the general population.
If your post-graduation depression symptoms interfere with your ability to function well, you might be experiencing a type of situational depression. This type of short-term suppression of your mood and energy isn’t the same thing as a major depressive disorder (MDD) diagnosis.
MDD is a clinical diagnosis of a depressive disorder with varying causes and symptoms that persist or recur.
But if you’re experiencing post-graduation blues or situational depression, you’ll likely feel better once you adjust to your life outside of school.
If you experience depressive symptoms beyond 2 weeks, it may help to seek support from a mental health professional.
Depression can affect a person’s mood, cognition, and even physical health.
Depression symptoms include:
- feelings of emptiness
- loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- reduced energy levels
- memory loss
- difficulty concentrating
- struggles with decision-making
- sleep changes
- appetite or weight changes
- physical symptoms like pain or digestive upset
- thoughts of suicide
- suicide attempts
Symptom severity can vary from person to person. You might not experience all the symptoms, and your experience might differ from that of someone else.
If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.
Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:
There are a few reasons you might experience graduation blues.
Although some people graduate with career-launching employment already lined up, this isn’t the case for everyone.
If you’re a grad who’s facing unemployment, this may weigh heavily on your state of mind.
Financial stress is a common experience for grads.
Even having a job at the end of a post-secondary program may not eliminate money worries. Many grads are faced with student loan repayments included in their cost of living, often funded by low-paying, entry-level employment.
A loss of social support
Graduation is a time when students leave their school peer groups to start their lives as working adults.
Whether you’ve lived in residence or commuted to school for your classes each day, graduation means an end to the social connections and routines you’ve built.
This shift in social structure can trigger depression for some people.
Major life transition
Many people experience depression during major life transitions like graduating from school.
- are major
- are sudden
- change a person’s life role
A life transition like graduation brings about so many changes.
Your schedule is suddenly different, and your social circle has changed. You’re adjusting to a new job or trying to find one, and you might have had to move to a new residence.
It can feel overwhelming and cause depression symptoms for some people.
When you’re experiencing depression symptoms, taking any kind of action can feel like it requires more energy than you have.
Still, there are things you can try that may help you feel better.
- Scheduling your day: A daily routine can add structure to your life, and help you prioritize healthful activities like sleep and exercise.
- Maintaining social connections: Regular and nurturing social contact with friends and family can be valuable mental health support.
- Eating nutritious food: Nutrient-dense food has numerous benefits for both physical and mental health.
- Making time to exercise: Regular exercise, including exposure to daylight and green spaces if they’re available, can help your mood and improve your health.
- Practicing sleep hygiene: A consistent bedtime, screen cut off, and a dark and quiet sleeping space are examples of helpful sleep hygiene elements.
You don’t need a formal diagnosis to get support. You can ask for help whenever you think it might be beneficial.
It may be time to reach out if you experience persistent symptoms that interfere with your daily functioning.
Some examples include:
- regularly missing work
- regularly over or under sleeping
- neglecting self-care
- withdrawing from friends and family
- considering self-harm
While anyone can experience post-graduation depression, the impact may be more pronounced for a person living with a pre-existing mental health issue.
Sometimes people have undiagnosed mental health issues but still manage until a major life stress exceeds their coping capacity.
This is where a mental health professional may be able to help. They can teach coping strategies, suggest treatments, and even help to determine if there is an undiagnosed underlying condition that’s prolonging or worsening your symptoms.
There’s a range of mental health issues that can interfere with a person’s daily functioning.
Condition categories include:
Adjustment disorder is another condition that may interfere with your day-to-day functioning. An adjustment disorder is an emotional disturbance that occurs within three months of an identifiable life stressor.
It’s an example of a condition that can make post-graduation depression symptoms severe and debilitating.
Adjustment disorders are specified according to a person’s symptoms associated with:
- depressed mood
- mixed anxiety and depressed mood
- disturbance of conduct
- mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct
- unspecified depressive disorder
Adjustment disorders apply to the 6 months following the end of the upsetting circumstance or its consequences.
If a person’s symptoms persist beyond 6 months, it’s possible that they’re experiencing a type of depressive condition rather than an adjustment disorder.
Graduation triggers emotions for most people. It’s a major life milestone that you’ve worked hard to achieve.
If you experience post-graduation depression, prioritizing self-care measures like restorative sleep, regular exercise, nutrient-dense food, and nurturing social connections may help you feel better.
If you still want more support, you can also reach out to a mental health professional.