Depression is a serious illness. According to the NIMH, major depression is the leading cause of suicide and disability for people ages 15-44. And depression often reaches its apex during the age range of traditional college students and graduate students. It’s actually been estimated that 1 in 4 young adults will suffer from one form of depression in their lifetime.
What’s more, depression may have social components, like stress. And think about the stress young people go through: stress from finding a job, mounting student loan debt, pressures from moving away from family, etc.
"Check Out iGrad's "Best Of" Beating the Blues Page for The Best Articles, Books, and Resources for Overcoming Post College Depression"
If you suspect you might be suffering from depression, don't wait - get help from a doctor or student health center. The good news is that, in addition to professional counseling, there are a lot of great books and resources out there that can help you feel normal again.
First, Know the Classic Symptoms
- Loss of interest in activities that used to give you pleasure
- Ruminating thoughts or worries (about getting a job, moving, keeping friendships, etc.)
- Irrational, overly negative thinking (No one likes me; I’ll never find a job; My girlfriend is going to leave me…)
- You either eat too much or too little
- Exhibit poor self-esteem and/or body image
- You sleep too much or too little
- You may have trouble controlling your temper or anxious feelings—a definite sign that you might be suffering from a mood disorder
- Chronic fatigue and/or pain in the lower back and neck area have been reported
- Increasing reliance on substances (drugs and alcohol) or additive behaviors (anything from obsessive gambling to tanorexia) to temporarily alleviate depression symptoms
- Thoughts of suicide—seek help immediately if you experience this symptom
What to Do if You're Diagnosed with Depression
The first step to healing depression is seeking help. If you are still in college, there are typically free or low-cost resources available to you at either your student health center, or counseling center. Psychopharmaceutical treatment (treatment of mental health issues using psychoactive drugs) may also be useful, though cognitive behavior therapy techniques may be both effective and sought on one’s own or as an addition to other treatments.
A counselor may lead you on some of the activities described below, activities that I have found effective for battling even just a light case of the blues:
Tip #1: Jot Down Three Happy Occurrences Everyday
Researcher Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, saw tremendous success when asking sufferers of major depression to chronicle at least three good things that happened to them over the course of that day. Seligman described a 96% success rate with this technique; most study participants reported significant relief and most were re-classified to moderate or minor depression from major depression.
Tip #2: Look For the Silver Lining
In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonya Lybomirsky discusses how those faced with difficult, sometimes devastating life events can use coping skills to find the light at the end of the tunnel. She writes of a woman who lost her elderly father due to old age, and despite the difficult situations and actions she was forced to take, she managed to discover a kind of strength and inner resolve.
Lybomirsky suggests developing coping skills. The people with the best coping skills—like the woman above—can turn tragedy into triumph and find the best in any bad situation.
Tip #3: Start Anywhere
Patricia Madson wisely suggests, in her book Improv Wisdom, developing a coping skill many psychologists refer to as compartmentalizing. That is, to separate and detach yourself from the whole so that you may focus on the first step. If you want to clean up an epic mess, just start picking things up off the floor, or sort laundry… don’t worry about what needs to be done next before finishing the first task you set out to accomplish—start with a single battle if you want to win the war.
Tip #4: Don’t Fight the Feeling
According to Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, the major mistake we make with feelings is that we fight them or ruminate on them, but refuse to acknowledge them and let them pass. Although she primarily discusses fear in the above context, any negative emotion or thought can be dismissed by mastering this simple thought construct: if you feel sad, admit it to yourself and then locate a goal you’d like to accomplish and start anywhere (see above.)
Don’t fight the thought or emotion and don’t ignore it, simply admit what you are feeling and continue on with what you’d like to accomplish.
Tip #5: Reframe Failure
Western society inherited many good things from the Ancient Greeks: poetry, art, philosophy, and even democracy. Unfortunately, we also inherited an overly stringent concept of the ideal. That is, we’re too attached to perfection.
The author of The Power of Failure, Charles Manz, suggests that we need to individually rethink what we consider failure. Someone that has a healthy view on what failure is might earn an F in a class, but they would focus on the “earn” portion of that sentence and not the F. If they tried their best in the class, and their best was an F, they’d find a way to still be proud of themselves for putting forth their best effort.
Depression is a serious, but highly treatable illness. All scientific evidence that suggests that, if worked at, you too can be a happy, well-adjusted person. All you need to do is set aside some time to work on your own happiness.
Even if you're not clinically depressed, we all get the blues sometimes. How do you fight yours off?
S.B. Bryan is a writer and non-traditional college student attending Texas State University. His blog, www.30yofreshman.com, details the crazy world of a 30-year-old in a 20-year-old's world, provides tips for surviving and thriving in college and at work, and explores the fascinating inner lives of llamas.