What to Know About Depression in College Students

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 02, 2023
4 min read

College is an exciting time for many young people. It’s common for many college students to experience stress because of the new challenges college brings — moving away from home, studying, and adjusting to a new life.

Trying to cope with so many new changes may cause some students to deal with depression. Studies show that more students are dealing with depression than those of previous generations. Learn about the signs of depression and what you can do to manage your mental health.

Research shows that many mental health conditions begin to present themselves in individuals starting at the ages of 18 to 24. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 75% of people with anxiety disorders will begin to show symptoms before they are 22 years old.

College is a common time for many people to experience the first signs of depression. Depression is usually accompanied by feelings of sadness or anxiety. It’s important to note that there isn’t one single cause of depression, but there are several common factors that are noted among college students.

A new environment. For many college students, college is their first time living away from home long-term. While this can be an exciting time for you to explore your identity and grow as a person, it’s also common to deal with feelings of homesickness or being overwhelmed.

It may take some time to get used to changes like living with a roommate or meeting new friends. Living on your own for the first time, you may not have the same healthy eating and sleeping habits you had at home. These factors, along with a more unpredictable schedule, can leave you feeling stressed.

Genetics and personality. Your family history might play a part in your depression since depression can be inherited. Your genetics may be linked to depression, though not everybody with these genes experiences symptoms of depression.

Your personality can also play a part. People with low self-esteem and a low threshold for stress are more likely to experience depression. It’s also true that if you already have a pessimistic outlook on things, you’re more likely to experience depression.

Being around other people who are depressed. Depression among college students is more common these days. You’re more likely to be depressed if you’re in an environment where you’re surrounded by other people who also experience depression.

One recent study found half of the students surveyed showed signs of depression and/or anxiety. Feelings of depression and anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and stress.

Not everyone experiences the same signs of depression. However, there are some signs that you can look out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Irritability 
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite or overeating 
  • Loss of interest in activities that you enjoy
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless, worthless, empty, sad, anxious, helpless, or restless
  • Aches, pains, and cramps that don’t get better
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression can take a toll on your well-being. Your academic performance may suffer as a result, too. Some students even report feeling so depressed that it became difficult to function and go about their daily routine.

Depression in college students can lead to unhealthy habits. Some turn to alcohol or substance abuse to deal with their stress and other negative feelings. It can increase around the end of the semester when deadlines and courseloads become more demanding.

While students with depression don’t necessarily drink more than their peers, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, like unsafe sex. They may also turn to street drugs to cope with their feelings.

Most alarmingly, depression is a risk factor when it comes to suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 24. If you recognize that you have feelings or symptoms of depression, there are ways to get help and treatment.

There are ways to get help if you are experiencing college depression. Colleges and universities have health centers on campus where you can talk to a mental health professional. This is the best place to start. These health centers may have a limited number of sessions available to you, but they can refer you to other mental health professionals in your community.

The most common treatment for depression is psychotherapy, which is also called talk therapy. Your doctor may also give you antidepressants along with therapy depending on your symptoms.

In addition to getting help from a professional, it’s important to take care of yourself at home. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, between seven to nine hours a night. Try to eat healthy, nutritious food to fuel your body, and take some time to get in a bit of exercise each day.

Alcohol and drugs can make your depression worse. Try to find other ways to manage your stress, like spending time with friends or taking part in activities you enjoy. Most importantly, don’t try to hide your feelings. Talking to friends and family about how you’re feeling and how they can help you feel better.