College is an important and trying time in most young people’s lives, and with that comes stress and anxiety. It is common for students to feel overwhelmed, distressed, sad, or even hopeless. Often, this is simply the result of the lifestyle changes and stresses that come with going to college, such as dealing with difficult coursework or living away from loved ones for the first time. Sometimes, though, these feelings are an indicator of something much more serious.
Depression, sometimes called clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a serious and potentially life-threatening mood disorder. It is much more complex than sadness – sufferers of depression may feel sad, but they often also feel hopeless or empty, and sometimes experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide. It can sap people of the motivation to carry out normal day-to-day activities, such as going to class or socializing. Sometimes, it disrupts sleeping patterns and appetite. Most insidiously, depression leads to a loss of interest and pleasure. Activities that a depressed person would normally enjoy may instead offer little to no satisfaction.
In my own experience, people do not “snap out” of depression. When untreated, my depression continually grows worse. To this day, I am certain that I would have taken my own life had I not made the decision to reach out for help. If you think you might have depression, you should reach out to anyone you can trust – friends, loved ones, or university faculty – and, from there, get help from medical professionals. Trying to work your way out of it on your own will only put off treatment and make the problem worse.
Your university should have the resources needed to treat depression, especially if it is a large public university. Ideally, your school’s health services will provide you with therapy or medication. Personally, I have been able to get both of these services on-campus. The cost of treatment can vary widely depending on what kind of treatment you need and what sort of insurance you have – many undergraduate students are still on their parents’ policies – but should be affordable. It is important to remember that if you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of your treatment, you have the right to advocate for yourself.
Even with all of the resources and assistance available, depression may not completely go away. You may still have bad days when you feel hopeless and full of despair. Treatment for depression is an ongoing experience that may last several years. I have been seeing therapists and taking medication for three years, and have not given serious thought to discontinuing treatment. The main thing to keep in mind, though, is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It gets better.