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Adapted from the National Institute of Mental Health 

Many people experience the first symptoms of depression during their college years. Unfortunately, many college students who have depression aren’t getting the help they need. They may not know where to go for help. Or they may believe that treatment won’t help. Others don’t get help because they think their symptoms are just part of the typical stress of college, or they worry about being judged if they seek mental health care. 

It’s important to note that depression is a medical illness and treatments can be very effective. Early diagnosis and treatment can relieve depression symptoms, prevent depression from returning, and help you succeed in college and after graduation.  

Here are answers to college students’ frequently asked questions about depression:  

Q. What is depression? 

A. Depression is a common but serious mental illness typically marked by sad or anxious feelings. Most college students occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions usually pass quickly—within a couple of days. Untreated depression lasts for a long time, interferes with day-to-day activities, and is much more than just being “a little down” or “feeling blue.” 

Q. What are the signs and symptoms of depression? 

A. The symptoms vary. If you are depressed, you may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, guilty, worthless, helpless, irritable, and restless. You may also experience one or more of the following: 

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Problems concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions 
  • Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much 
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much 
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts 
  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not go away. 

A nationwide survey found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time in the past year. 

Q. What causes depression? 

A. Depression does not have a single cause. Several factors can lead to depression. Some people carry genes that increase their risk of depression. But not all people with depression have these genes, and not all people with these genes have depression. 

Your environment, such as your surroundings, life experiences, and stress levels, also affects your risk for depression. Stresses of college may include: 

  • Living away from family for the first time 
  • Missing family or friends 
  • Feeling alone or isolated 
  • Experiencing conflict in relationships 
  • Facing new and sometimes difficult schoolwork 
  • Worrying about finances. 
Q. How can I find out if I have depression? 

A. The first step is to talk with a doctor or mental health care provider. Your family doctor, campus health center staff, or other trusted adult may be able to help you find appropriate care. 

Q. How is depression treated? 

A. The most common treatments are antidepressants and psychotherapy. Antidepressants work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine.  

Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health care professional to treat a mental illness. Types of psychotherapy that are effective in treating depression include: 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people change negative styles of thinking and behavior that may contribute to depression 
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT), which helps people understand and work through troubled personal relationships that may cause or worsen depression. 

Depending on the type and severity of your depression, a mental health professional may recommend short-term therapy, lasting 10 to 20 weeks, or longer-term therapy. Most colleges provide mental health services through counseling centers or student health centers. You can also seek help from your Assistance Program.

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