Transitioning into adulthood, making critical career and life decisions, and balancing schoolwork and other responsibilities are just a few of the many obligations college students grapple with. This exhilarating yet overwhelming period can leave you vulnerable to depression. Depression is a serious mental illness that is characterized by sadness, guilt, problems concentrating, changes in appetite or sleep habits, and thoughts of suicide. If you are suffering from depression as a college student, you can learn to effectively cope by using the resources available on campus, adopting lifestyle habits to treat your symptoms, and addressing stigma or shame.
EditTaking Advantage of Campus Resources
- Use your campus counseling services. Most colleges and universities have on-site counseling centers dedicated to assisting their students. Here you can receive quality counseling services that help you beat depression by changing negative thought patterns and developing healthy coping skills.
- If you think you might be struggling with depression, ask a resident assistant (RA), a friend, or the health office about the campus counseling center. You may also be able to look up the service on the college website.
- Arrange to receive follow-ups and medications nearby. Even if you have suffered from depression previously and saw a doctor in your hometown, it can help to have a local physician on hand for checkups and prescription refills. In addition, a local doctor can help you decide if your current depression treatment is effective or if you should try alternatives.
- Check to see if your college has a student health center where you can visit a doctor for follow-ups and/or a pharmacy to get your meds. If not, ask your parents to help you contact a physician in the community near your school.
- Seek help with academics. Depression takes a toll on your ability to concentrate in classes and your capacity to retain new information. If your illness is affecting your studies, let someone at your school know so that you can get the assistance you need.
- You might simply tell an instructor, coach, or advisor that you are struggling in classes. Start the conversation by pulling them aside and saying, “Mr. Wagner, I am suffering from depression and it’s making it hard for me to keep up in class.”
- You might also research on-campus tutoring services, study groups, or find out what sort of accommodations may be available to you by browsing your school’s website.
- Participate in extracurricular activities for positive social connection. Team sports, student organizations, volunteer groups, and fraternities and sororities are all great platforms on campus to meet new friends and pursue your interests. Ask about the different organizations offered at your school and join at least one.
EditTreating Your Symptoms
- Create a realistic routine. Depression can wreak havoc on your ability to perform in classes or extracurriculars. However, you can set yourself up for success and improve your mood by developing a feasible schedule.
- Challenge yourself to get out of bed, tidy your dorm or apartment, eat a hearty breakfast and get dressed for classes each day. Get your books and outfit ready the night before to ease your morning routine.
- If you have trouble focusing early in the morning, optimize your schedule with late morning and early afternoon classes. Prioritize getting your work done. So, if you fear you’ll climb back into bed after classes, schedule a few hours in the library before heading back to your dorm.
- Eat a balanced nutritious diet. As you know, a healthy diet is vital to overall health and wellness. People with depression, however, can be deficient on essential vitamins and nutrients that counteract stress. You may notice your mood lifting once you make some better dietary choices.
- While you may be tempted to reach for fast or convenience foods like pizza, chips, or candy, these foods offer nothing in terms of nutritional value. Opt for healthy, whole foods like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
- Choose brain-healthy foods like leafy green salads with spinach that provide magnesium or omega-3 rich walnuts or tuna.
- Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity is a natural anti-depressant as getting your heart rate up releases feel-good chemicals that lift the mood. Exercise also improves your sleep quality, reduces stress, and benefits your self-esteem.
- Visit your campus gym to use the workout equipment or weights. Many colleges offer free personal training sessions or group fitness classes to students. You can also try going for a run around campus on sunny days. Or, go for a swim at the campus pool.
- If you have trouble getting motivated, ask a friend to join you. Working out with a buddy can further lift your mood. Plus, knowing that they will hold you accountable can give you the push you need.
- Try to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night. Your mood and sleep habits are intimately linked. If you frequently stay up all night cramming for tests or writing papers, you could be unknowingly compromising your mental health. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule by lying down and rising each day around the same times.
- If you have trouble getting to sleep, your tech devices could be the culprit. Shut them down at least an hour before bed.
- If your night-owl roommate threatens your sleep quality, purchase an eye mask and ear plugs to reduce sound and light disturbances from disrupting your rest.
- In addition, if you suffer from insomnia, the campus health office may be able to give you medications or suggest supplements that help you sleep.
- Create a self-care plan to keep stress at bay. College being stressful is an understatement. Many students juggle classes with extracurriculars, social groups, and part-time jobs that add to their worries. Having a few relaxing activities in mind to do in case of stress can prevent your symptoms from worsening.
- Avoid unhealthy coping with alcohol or drugs. People with depression may wish to numb their symptoms by reaching for these substances, but they only worsen the problem in the long run.
- Minimize stress and relieve the symptoms of depression by regularly performing self-care. Try journaling your thoughts and feelings each day. Perform relaxation techniques like deep breathing, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation. Watch a fun movie with your roommate. Or, grab a blanket and lie out on the lawn with an interesting book.
- Stay in touch with family and friends back home. Although you may not be willing to admit it, many college students do feel homesick every now and then. Plan to visit your parents, siblings, and high school friends during break. You can also make use of various forms of technology to stay in touch.
- Schedule a weekly Skype call with your family or friends. Keep track of what’s happening in everyone’s lives through social media. Send your parents an email when your grades post online.
- Seek help if you feel suicidal. If you have thoughts of taking your own life, you need to get professional help right away. Your campus counseling center or health office probably has a 24-hour crisis line you can call to speak to a counselor. This person can help you resolve negative thoughts or feelings, or get emergency services to you.
- If you cannot locate the campus crisis line, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact your local emergency services department.
EditOvercoming Stigma and Shame
- Join a mental health awareness or advocacy organization. Although more people being open about their struggles with mental illness reduce the stigma, some people are still weary of sharing their stories. You can connect with faculty and students who empathize with your experience in campus organizations dedicated to mental health.
- Ask a professor, advisor, or school counselor about organizations on your campus. College students can work together to shape policy regarding mental health and educate their peers on the signs of common conditions.
- Build a reliable support network. Feeling valued and supported can go a long way towards helping you fight depression and overcoming stigma. Spend time with caring people who are positive influences. Stay away from people who are insensitive to your condition or expose you to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs.
- Forms of support can vary from your roommate, fraternity or sorority, a kind professor, your counselor, and your parents.
- Practice gratitude. Building a habit of gratitude can help you see the silver lining of difficult life situations. Gratitude can improve your health, enrich relationships, and even reduce depression and anxiety. What’s more, being thankful for the positives in your life can help you feel less ashamed and stigmatized by depression. 
- Take a moment each day to write down a few things that went well or that you are grateful for. You might mention your counselor, a nutritious dinner, a spontaneous phone call from a childhood friend, or an invigorating yoga session.
- Know that you’re not alone. Millions of college students experience depression every year. However, feeling isolated from others can amplify the stigma you feel when coping with depression. Thanks to awareness and advocacy organizations and national research, you can gain more insight into just how common your condition really is.
- Browse websites like the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychological Association to learn more about depression and how it affects college students like you.