Unfortunately, depression is not uncommon. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports one in six people will experience depression at some point in their life. More than 300 million people around the world live with depression, according to the World Health Organization. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 75% of all mental health conditions begin by age 24.
Depression is defined by the APA as having long-lasting, moderate to severe feelings of sadness and/or loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities. It can cause numerous problems including sleep troubles, loss of appetite or weight gain, and difficulty completing everyday tasks. For college students with depression, the illness can affect the ability to focus, study, and successfully complete assignments and tests required to graduate.
Depression can strike at any point in someone’s life. This guide explains common causes and signs of depression, how to seek treatment for depression, and resources for college students who are experiencing this mental disorder.
Common Causes of Depression
Depression can be caused by both genetic and external factors. Common causes of depression cited by the APA include:
- Biochemistry, which means chemicals in the brain can affect a person's likelihood to experience depression.
- Genetics, because depression can be inherited. Identical twin studies have shown a 70% likelihood of an identical twin having depression when the other twin is depressed.
- Personality, since people with personality characteristics such as low self-esteem, a pessimistic outlook on life, and a low capability of handling stress are more likely to experience depression.
- Outward factors, such as exposure to violence, abuse, or a significant loss.
College is stressful for all types of students. Major life events, even positive ones such as beginning college, can be difficult to adapt to.
Signs of Depression in College
Anyone can encounter symptoms of depression every now and then. However, an indicator of depression is when symptoms are prolonged and interfere with everyday functioning for a couple weeks or more. Doctors and mental health professionals can diagnose depression.
Some warning signs of depression that college students should be aware of include:
- Feelings of sadness
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Diminished interest in participating in activities that were once enjoyable
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Decreased energy
- Thoughts of suicide or increased thoughts about death
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Stark change in physical activity and movements, such as prolonged pacing or shaking one's leg
- Persistent headaches, stomachaches, or muscle pain
If you start to feel these symptoms, keep a journal to record their progression. This will help you talk about what you're experiencing with a doctor or therapist. Note whether any life changes have accompanied the symptoms, so you can address potential causes.
What to Do If You Think You're Depressed
It is best to treat depression as early as possible. If you have experienced symptoms of depression for a couple weeks or more, talk with a professional therapist, primary care doctor, or psychiatrist. This person will be able to diagnose you with depression and help you uncover any other medical issues that may be causing the symptoms.
Depression can be treated with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Various types of therapy can be tailored to help your unique situation. A doctor or therapist may recommend you meet a psychiatrist, who will be able to prescribe a medication if the depression is caused or exacerbated by biochemistry or genetics.
In addition to seeking professional help, self-care is important to lessen the effects of depression. Self-care for college students includes:
While these self-care tips are important to do for the rest of your life, if you think you are experiencing depression, it's best to talk with an expert for assistance.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The line is open 24/7, and you can talk with someone for free and get resources to help you. All calls are confidential.
Mental Health Resources for College Students
If you are experiencing depression, you're not alone. It can happen at any time, and it may be a recurring experience. Many resources are available for college students to get help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call for help if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide. All calls are confidential.
This website has resources dedicated to mental health for college students, including how to help a friend who might be depressed.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Find a support group for depression, including ones that are online or over the phone.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Get information on depression, find online tools, and connect with support groups.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Text for free support, or visit the website for resources on depression.
Text NAMI to 741741
Note: Message and data rates may apply, depending on your plan and provider.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Call the national helpline, or visit online to use the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.
Get access to helplines and resources, including mental health resources for veterans.
Talk with your primary care doctor or mental health professional, or visit or call one of these mental health resources for help with depression. You don't have to face depression alone, and addressing mental health concerns can help you have a successful college experience.