Acknowledging and Coping with Depression in College

October 10, 2019

College student dealing with depression

Students experience many firsts during their years in college, such as living independently, being responsible for your own actions, taking midterms/finals, and many more. While these experiences can be fun and exciting, students who aren't prepared to cope can become susceptible to depression.

Depression is a very serious problem that, over the years, has increased dramatically in college campuses across the country. A 2018 survey done by Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) shows that an average of 48.2% of students on campus are served by counseling services, with almost half (48%) of those clients seeking help for depression. Since not all those affected by depression seek help from a professional, the true number of students affected may be even higher. This article is an overview of depression types, causes, and options for trying to cope and is for informational purposes only. If you feel you may be suffering from depression, consult a medical professional.

Types of Depression & Symptoms

As set forth in the Harvard Health Publishing article “Six common depression types”, the four most common types of depression are major depression, persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia), bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. You may be able to better manage your symptoms and seek the appropriate treatment by beginning to identify which type you may have.

Major Depression

Major depression—the classic depression type—is a state where a person is engulfed by an all-consuming dark mood and as a result loses interest in activities, even ones that were once pleasurable to them. This type of depression is characterized by its harsh, unyielding symptoms, and when left untreated, can last about six months. For some people, major depression is a recurring disorder that can last anywhere from weeks to years, but for others it can be a solo depressive episode just once or twice in their life.

Some Symptoms Include- Trouble sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, loss of energy, and feeling worthless, angry outbursts, slowed/troubled thinking, and unexplainable physical aches and pains. Thoughts of death or suicide may occur.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent Depressive Disorder, formerly known as “dysthymia”, is a type of chronic depression. Someone suffering from PDD may experience a heavy feeling of depression more often than not. The symptoms for PDD are not as severe as those of major depression, but usually last for at least two years. Although it is not uncommon for a person with PDD to exhibit normal moods and behaviors, it is typically only for a brief period of time. Many people with this type of depression type are able to function day to day, but feel low or joyless much of the time. They may also feel as if they have always been depressed, or feel as though their constant low moods are just who they are.

Some Symptoms Include- Hopelessness, lack of energy, irritability, low self-esteem, decreased productivity, and feelings of emptiness.

Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder—once known as manic-depressive disease—experience episodes of depression in addition to periods of unusually high energy and activity, referred to as ‘manic’ episodes. Manic episode symptoms look like the opposite of depression symptoms. Being manic can make you feel great, but the episodes don’t last long and often lead to self-destructive behavior followed by a period of depression.

Some Symptoms Include- Unrealistically high self-esteem, lavish ideas, decreased need for sleep, thoughts and activity at higher speed, and ramped-up pursuit of pleasure including sex sprees, overspending, and risk taking.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder—also known as seasonal depression—is a form of depression that affects people more intensely during specific seasons. For most people, SAD usually emerges as days get shorter in the fall and winter and starts to lift during the first weeks of spring. Someone who experiences SAD will often feel like a completely different person during the affected months; while they feel normal, happy, and energetic in the summer, winter brings feelings of emptiness, anxiety, and stress. According to, the mood change may result from alterations in the body's natural daily rhythms, in the eyes' sensitivity to light, or in how chemical messengers like serotonin and melatonin function. According to CITE, the leading treatment is light therapy, which involves daily sessions sitting close to an especially intense light source. The usual treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication, are also sometimes used.

Some Symptoms Include- Losing interest in activities, low energy, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, feeling worthless, easily agitated, difficulty concentrating, and feeling depressed nearly every day during the affected months.


Causes of Depression

It is not known exactly what causes depression, as everyone feels and reacts to things differently. As with many mental disorders, a variety of factors may be involved in causing depression. Listed below are some causes of depression according to the Mayo Clinic article “Depression (major depressive disorder)”—but please be aware the causes of depression may not be limited to those stated in this list.

Biological differences- According to the article, people suffering from depression appear to have physical changes in their brains, and while the significance of these changes is still uncertain, they may eventually help pinpoint causes.

Brain chemistry- According to the article, neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in causing depression, and new research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.

Hormones- According to the article, changes in the body's balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression, and hormone changes can result from numerous things, such as pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum), thyroid problems, menopause, and a number of other conditions.

Inherited traits- According to the article, depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition, and researchers are in the process of finding genes that may be involved in causing depression.


Risk Factors of Depression

Depression can effect a person of any age, but often begins in the teens, 20s or 30s. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, but it has been suggested this may be due in part because women are more likely to seek treatment. Listed below are some factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression according to the Mayo Clinic article “Depression (major depressive disorder)”. These risk factors include but are not limited to:

  • Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being too dependent, self-critical or pessimistic.
  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems.
  • Blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide.
  • Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or having variations in the development of genital organs that aren't clearly male or female (intersex) in an unsupported situation.
  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease.
  • Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills (talk to your doctor before stopping any medication).


Acknowledging Depression

Almost everyone is sad at some point in their life, but depression is more than just sadness. It lasts longer than normal sadness, makes you feel heavy, and can cloud your judgement. Acknowledging your depression can be difficult for a number of reasons. The people around you may not understand, and as a result make you feel as though you have nothing to be sad about. You also may have difficulty acknowledging your depression because you have lived with it so long. You may not know how you should feel normally, so you accept depression as just ‘how you are’. You also may be inclined to deal with it or let it ‘run its course.’ But according to, depression symptoms rarely go away if untreated—in fact, they tend to get worse.


Coping with Depression

There are various treatment methods currently being offered for depression. Some of the more common methods involve antidepressant drugs, talk therapy (psychotherapy), or a combination of both. If you think you may have depression and want to know more about treatment options, a consultation with your doctor or a qualified health care provider will help you learn more. If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. Recognizing your depression and taking action to address it can be a helpful step towards recovery.

Here are some personal coping tips—provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, from their book, Depression: What You Need to Know—that may help you during treatment:

•Exercise- Try your best to be active. Go out with friends, enjoy a movie, or any other activity or event that you have enjoyed.

•Set Realistic Goals- It is important to not expect too much from yourself. Improvement happens over time, it is not an overnight fix. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.

•Pace Yourself- Break up your large tasks into smaller ones. Set your priorities, and take everything at your own pace—one step at a time

•Socialize- Try not to isolate yourself, you should be spending time with others. Confide in a trusted friend or relative, and do not be afraid to let others help you.

•Put Yourself First- Take care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting a good night’s rest, and eating plenty. Postpone important decisions until you feel better, and discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.

•Think Positive- Surround yourself with positive energy from yourself and others. Positive thoughts will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.

•Educate Yourself- Educating yourself on depression will help give you a better understanding of what you’re going through. Being able to identify certain details of depression in yourself can also help with feelings of being lost and unsure.


Depression in college students is a very real issue that is going on today. For those of you who are dealing with depression, know that you are not alone and that help is available. Most campuses have resources available for you such as counselors and therapy. If you are a student who believes you may be experiencing severe symptoms of depression—suicidal thoughts and/or actions and other harmful thoughts – it is important that you contact a medical professional as soon as possible. According to the Mayo Clinic article "Suicide and suicidal thoughts", Suicidal thoughts and actions include but are not limited to: talking about suicide, planning for suicide, withdrawing from social contact, intense mood swings, feeling preoccupied with death and violence, feeling trapped, increase of alcohol and drug use, extreme change in routine, self-destructive actions, parting with belongings, saying your final goodbyes, and extreme personality changes.


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For more ways to face your college challenges, check out Rest + Recovery: The Importance of Holiday Breaks

To keep your mental health in check, make sure to not procrastinate your work. Check out Tips for Avoiding Procrastination Now (Not Later)