Graduating from college is supposed to be an exciting, happy time. Your whole future is ahead of you, and final exams are behind. For some grads, though, graduation isn’t all tossing caps up in the air accompanied by happiness. In fact, it can be the complete opposite — enter: post graduation depression.
What is Post-Graduate Depression
While post graduation depression isn’t an official diagnosis or mental illness like clinical clinical depression is, it’s very much a real phenomenon. And I’ve got news for you, ’tis the season for post graduation depression!
“All of a sudden, you kind of realize you don’t have anything to do, you’ve just been laying in bed all day and saying that you’re going to look for jobs. I realized something was wrong when I was looking for jobs but not really trying hard,” college grad, Gina*, now 24, recalls of her experience with post college depression. “I got into this mindset where I was thinking, ‘What makes me think that I’ll get this job over the million other creatives in New York City?’ I didn’t have any routine. Everyday I was less and less motivated, until I was watching full seasons of Netflix all day long. I was sleeping until 5PM and up until 4AM having panic attacks.”
Sadly, Christina’s experience is far from uncommon.
Graduating is a Huge Life Change
Life transitions can be stressful and triggering for anyone — even people who don’t have a pre-existing mental illness. Graduating from college and entering “the real world” is perhaps one of the most jarring life transitions a young adult can face.
Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., explains, “Change, in general, can bring about feelings of sadness. College graduation represents a major life transition and with that transition can come feelings of sadness or concern about the future. For many, graduating college can mean that multiple aspects of their life change relatively quickly (i.e., finding a new place to live, starting a new job, meeting new people). In essence, this becomes a bit of change-overload and it can be overwhelming for many individuals to navigate these additional stressors.”
Graduating Can Also Bring Rejection
Another unfortunate stressor? Rejection. While a lucky bunch easily finds jobs soon after graduation, a lot of grads have to deal with rejection — and a lot of it. Getting rejected from job applications and interviews can take a serious toll on one’s self esteem — and rejection is even more common in some industries than others (to the graduates who are fellow writers…hang in there!)
Signs and Symptoms of Post-Graduate Depression
Whether a recent grad is coping with rejection and trying to get a job or navigating the struggles of their first “real” job that they’ve already landed, post college depression has a few different ways it can manifest.
“Individuals who are experiencing post-college sadness might notice that they feel sad or disconnected from their previous lifestyle as a college student; however, often they will be able to find joy in other areas of their life (for example, spending time with family or friends),” O’Neill says. “If an individual feels pretty sad and depressed and isn’t finding joy in other areas of their life, then it could be a good opportunity to talk with a mental health professional.”
Not finding enjoyment in things that used to bring you enjoyment is one of the many telltale signs of depression, and could be a sign that what you’re experiencing is more than just the blues. Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, warns, “Addiction or substance abuse is a common sign. Graduating college creates a void in our life. Therefore, we might turn to things or activities so to fill this void. It can be alcohol, cigarettes, or any other type of drug or activity.”
Looking for another indicator to determine if your post college blues could be headed towards clinical depression? “Clinical depression is characterized by feelings of despondency and dejection that prevent us from completing our daily activities and interfere with work or relationships. The latter usually lasts longer and is more notorious,” Catchings says. So if you feel like you are really struggling day-to-day and having trouble doing even the most basic of things, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.
How to Address Post-Graduate Depression
No matter what level of sadness you’re experiencing, it’s important to really check in and take care of yourself. “Give yourself space to feel the emotions. Mindfulness practices can be really helpful in identifying emotions without judging them. Emotions are natural reactions to things that are going on in life,” O’Neill advises. “Instead of trying to escape the emotion, allow yourself to experience it while also thinking about how you can commit to focusing on your future. I also like incorporating extra self-care during times of heightened stress and sadness — things like daily affirmations or gratitude practices can be super helpful.”
Catchings has some advice, too. “One of the tips that I recommend to recent graduates is to add structure to their lives. Try to go to bed or wake up around the same time every day and create a schedule that not only works for you but that also allows you to work on and reach your professional goals. Another tip is to make sure that you eat at least three meals a day around the same time. That helps us to stay healthy but also to prevent emotional eating or eating disorders due to depression or anxiety.” If you want to be even more proactive, she suggests, “Create a dream board or a timeline. This will allow you to set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.”
If you’ve recently graduated and started to feel this way — it’s okay. I promise you that you’re not alone. I bet if you open up to some of your close friends who are fellow graduates, you’ll learn that some of them feel the same way. Give yourself a big pat on the back for finishing college — it’s a huge accomplishment! As the pros said, allow yourself to feel all of the emotions and don’t forget to practice extra self care. Now, go out there and face adulthood, you’ve got this.