Going to college is a long-awaited time for many young people. It is a time full of new experiences, self-discovery, and freedom. However, this sudden change can act as a catalyst for depression and anxiety. In fact, studies show that one in four college students struggles with mental illness. College students are particularly susceptible to depression. For most, it is the first time away from home. With the additional pressure of achieving academic success, making new friends, doing chores, and managing expenses. And as if college isn’t stressful enough, the pandemic forced students into confinement and erupted feelings of isolation and uncertainty about the future. Also, it dramatically changed routines, physical activity, sleep, and time use. Not to mention social interaction and connection. Recent data reveals that 61% of university students are at risk of developing clinical depression. This means the rate has doubled since the start of the pandemic. In less than a year depression, anxiety, and burnout rates skyrocketed. The impact of the pandemic will continue to have its toll on college students’ both physical and emotional well-being. So, more than ever it is important to pay attention to signs of depression in college students.
Depression in College Students
We all have days when it is hard to get out of bed. But what happens if those days turn into weeks, or even months, until the point where we feel disconnected from our own lives. Sadness and depression are two very different things. You can feel sad whenever you’ve experienced an upsetting situation or have a really bad day. Usually, this feeling doesn’t last long and it doesn’t stand in the way of your day. A lot of times we borrow the term “depressed” to say we are feeling sad. However, the real meaning of depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest for at least two weeks or longer. These feelings can make it really hard to keep with our daily routines, like getting up in the morning, going to class, studying, and even enjoying the things that we used to love. When it comes to depression, people can feel so low and hopeless that they have thoughts of hurting themselves, death, or suicide. So, it is not just something you can “snap out” off and it is definitely not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is something that you shouldn’t have to face alone.
Common Signs of Depression in College Students
Depression can feel and look different for each person. Some people are more likely to feel sad, worthless, and overwhelmed. Others can be more irritable, moody, and tired. Do any of these feelings sound familiar? Does it remind you of a fellow student, a close friend, or even yourself? Here are some symptoms of depression you should be on the lookout for:
Persistent Sadness and Irritability
While some signs of depression are more clear, like sadness and crying, others, like irritability and difficulty concentrating, are less associated with it. Depression can be a rollercoaster of negative emotions. Where in a blink of an eye you can go down to sad, go all the way up to angry, and end up feeling empty. This means that you can experience sudden outbursts that are triggered by subtle or unknown events. So, if you recognize a pattern of mood swings that last more than a couple of days, it may be a symptom of depression.
Irregular Sleeping and Changing in Appetite
Depression can affect our sleep schedules in different forms. It can compel us to sleep all day long, but it also can mean not being able to sleep at all. Sometimes, this can create a cycle where our lack of sleep increases our anxiety levels, and in turn, our anxious thoughts keep us awake night after night. Also, if you are not sleeping well it can impact your appetite. Sleep helps regulate our hunger hormones, to keep us from undereating and overeating. So, some people may experience an increased appetite, while others may not feel hungry at all.
Isolation and Disinterest in Social Activities
When you’re depressed, you tend to isolate yourself and have more difficulty connecting with others. You may begin to avoid social situations, like spending time with your friends or going to class and take less pleasure in things you used to enjoy. As time goes by, you will find yourself completely isolated from peers, family, and others you care about. This is a telling sign of depression and can often perpetuate more feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sadness.
Physical Symptoms and Pain
Besides severe emotional pain, depression can also cause physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, muscle aches, chest pain, and other kinds of inexplicable pain. These symptoms can be severe, long-lasting, and cause great discomfort. They are also more difficult to hide, so they can be helpful warning signs. Keep in mind that the signs of depression aren’t always visible. There are a lot of people that successfully conceal their symptoms, particularly when they feel ashamed or afraid of being judged.