Trigger Warning: This article discusses depression.
According to research, depression is on the rise in college students. Causes of depression are complex and often a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.
Know, though, that if you suffer from depression, you’re not alone. Sometimes you may not even know what is causing your depression. Regardless, you deserve to be able to focus on the academic demands before you. But how do you know where to begin?
1. If you are afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, remember that makes you human — ask for help anyway.
Your feelings are not a reflection of your strength or weakness. You don’t have to act as if things are fine when they aren’t.
Many people who battle depression say it feels like drowning — screaming, arms flailing, desperately trying to swim to the top. It may feel that people watch you through the water, but no one tries to save you. However, know that people do want to pull you to the surface — they just can’t see you struggling until you ask for help.
Confide in a family member or friend and ask him or her to help you find help. Most campuses have a health or counseling center. Find a counselor who makes you feel safe and supported, who can help you overcome depression and return your focus to school.
2. Keep your eyes on the prize.
But how can you expect me to focus on my grades when I feel like this? Experts agree it is vital to remember: What motivated you to go to college before you felt this way? Why did you choose your school? Your major? Where did you see yourself after graduation?
Seek out a sense of purpose. Is there a professor you trust who you shared hopes and goals with previously? Ask her to remind you. Ask her for constant feedback on your performance.
Avoid perfectionism. Accept that you, like every single one of us, are a constant work in progress.
Design and work to execute a study plan with your counselor — he can hold you accountable when it feels like depression has seeped you of your motivation.
3. One day, one class, one moment at a time.
But know that this plan can be comprised of short-term goals. Break down bigger tasks into smaller ones. Remind yourself you are in control of your academic path, and you have the knowledge and resources to make informed decisions.
Turn your focus outward — when working on a math problem, be all there. Avoid constantly checking your phone, email, or social networks, all of which can pull your focus away.
Depression wants to pull you from focus too. It reminds you of past events and future anxieties, robbing you of the present moment. Challenge it.
4. Take care of yourself.
Show yourself compassion. Speak to yourself the way you would to your best friend.
Monitor negative thoughts. Ask yourself: What is real and what is not? Are my thoughts realistic and true?
Do your best to meet your physical needs: adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. Go outside. Avoid alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms – seek additional help if these challenges present themselves. Find small joys in your everyday routine. Reject your critical inner voice. You are stronger than your depression and you can get through this.
Please know that any suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously. You are not alone and you deserve to get help — if you need immediate assistance, please contact: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. College students. Retrieved from Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Crundwell, R. M. A., & Killu, K. (2010). Responding to a student's depression. Interventions that work, 68 (2), 46-51. Retrieved from Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Firestone, L. (2013, September 30). Compassion matters: Six truths about depression. Retrieved from Psychology Today.
Hersh, J. (2011, September 08). Struck by living: Freshmen year of college., Retrieved from Psychology Today.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013, September 05). College depression: What parents need to know. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic.
Metcalf, E. (2013, July 12). Reframe what you think about depression. Retrieved from Everyday Health.
Moustafa, R., & Ta, L. (2014, March 03). Depression weighs heavily on college students. Retrieved from The Gazette.
Neighmond, Patti. (2011, January 17). Depression on the rise in college students. Retrieved from NPR.
Students against depression. Retrieved from Students Against Depression.
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). How to get things done when you’re depressed. Retrieved from Psych Central.
UC Berkeley, University Health Services. (2003, November). Depression and college students. Retrieved from UC Berkeley.
University of Michigan Health System. (2013, May 13). Out of sync with the world: Brain study shows body clocks of depressed people are altered at cell level. Retrieved from University of Michigan.