How to Deal with Depression as a College Student

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We’ve all been there. The semester begins and by the second day of class, your to-do list is packed with more homework and essays than you could possibly have time to complete. Stressful, right?

Now add “depression” to that list of worries. Suddenly, attending your 10 a.m. class goes from being difficult to physically impossible, and a short reading assignment seems like an Ironman Triathlon. Many students, myself included, struggle with mental illness, so if you’re feeling a little too close to the edge, these tips might help point you in the right direction.

Take Everything One Day at a Time

This step applies to both mental illness and academics. Feeling overwhelmed often leads to disorganization and procrastination. Staying organized can be difficult, but keeping your assignments/desk/closet or whatever else you need tidy will free up some mental space–giving your brain a much needed break. Depression tries to keep you in bed, but having all of your work organized and accessible can make the process of starting the day a little easier.

Break down assignments into smaller tasks and figure out how long each will take—whether it be a few minutes, an hour or a day. There are many tools to help you manage your time, such as the Pomodoro Technique, which divides work into 25 minute periods. If you still feel swamped by your work, replay what Dory from Finding Nemo kept telling herself: “Just keep swimming.”

One thing at a time. One day at a time. Just keep swimming.

Develop a Support System

This step is probably the most important, yet difficult to do. No one wants to admit they’re feeling depressed, but mental illnesses thrive in silence. Opening up to someone, whether it’s a family member, friend or a professional is key to recovery. Having someone to confide in is extremely helpful in getting through the semester and daily life in general. Additionally, a professional at your college can help you develop a treatment plan for both recovering and keeping up with your academics.

Unfortunately, a common side effect of depression is the feeling of not wanting to “bother” anyone. Depression tries to make it seem as though no one cares about you, but as hard as it is to fight this sentiment, reaching out is essential to getting better. You’d be surprised by how much people truly do care.

Explore Your School’s Options

Many universities have mental health centers or resources for students who suffer from mental illness. Dig through your college’s website and figure out what they have to offer. Schools want you to succeed, but if you attend a large university you may have to sort through programs yourself if you don’t have a mentor or advisor right at your fingertips. Unfortunately, universities vary in how accommodating they are for mental illnesses, but figuring out your options is the first step in developing a plan. Professionals get paid for helping students—that’s their job. And often these services are free for students, so what’s the harm in trying?

Be Patient with Yourself

Depression doesn’t go away overnight. So don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself. Healing is part of the process, and the added stress from school can make depression worse. It’s okay to put yourself first, whether it’s for an hour, day or semester. University students are expected to accomplish coursework, internships, volunteering and club duties, so working through mental illness in college is almost inherently overwhelming. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and breathe. Remember, school isn’t worth compromising your mental health. If you’re on the verge of a breakdown, your essay due on Tuesday really shouldn’t be your main priority.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received regarding self-care is this: “Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend.” Treat yourself with compassion. In college, there can be a sense of urgency to prepare for the future, but school isn’t everything. If you want to put your best foot forward, taking care of yourself is essential.

Remember that you come before your work.

Hayley is a 3rd year English Major/Art History Minor at the University of California, Los Angeles. She enjoys baking banana bread, obsessing over Kpop boy bands, and having heated debates about the Oxford comma.

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