College is going to be a huge challenge. It doesn’t matter if you are full time or part time, a traditional resident, or online learner. If you expected college to be a fun time where you meet new people and do crazy things all while maintaining a 4.0, I’m sorry, but the movies have lied to you. The truth is, college is hard. You are encountering new ideas and heavy course loads all while trying to stay healthy and go on adventures with new friends. One of the oldest jokes about college outlines one of the greatest problems with college. You have the options of sleep, a social life, and good grades. Now choose the two you want because there is no time for the third. Sound familiar?
The challenges of college are heightened by depression. Depression can often leave you feeling drained. It can cause problems with sleep (either you need to much or get too little), cause irritability, isolate you, take away joy from normal activities, and overall just make it difficult to achieve any of the three options — let alone all of them! This is not an all inclusive list of symptoms and I am by no means a professional, but if you are experiencing these or other symptoms of depression, please reach out to a counselor. Unfortunately, depression is often linked to a problem with chemicals in your body, and while living a healthy lifestyle that involves getting enough sleep and exercise can help, it is not always enough.
Taking the time to put yourself first and seek out help is one of the biggest challenges. I’ve gone to great lengths to hide from my friends that I was seeing a counselor while in college. I’ve left to go study at random places and times so when I did need to run off to an appointment it wouldn’t seem so odd for me to leave. I’ve even skyped counselors to avoid the stigma of people seeing me go. One of the problems with mental illness is that people tend to see it as a character flaw and that has to stop. Another problem with depression is that a lot of the symptoms initially look like you are just a hard working student. People who skip out on fun things to do work and lose sleep to study are often glamorized as being the best students. This unhealthy lifestyle could be an indicator of depression without you even realizing you have it!
If you are a student struggling with depression, here are some things you can do to alleviate some of the problems:
- Consider reducing your schedule – Many schools offer the opportunity to do a reduced course load while you are struggling with mental illness. There is also the option to go part time, but be aware that this will effect federal aid.
- Switch to online classes- many schools now offer online degree programs. This is my first semester with online courses and I love it! I have the option of going one or two classes at a time and the schedule is more flexible. There are still deadlines, but they are much more manageable and when I am having bad days because of depression, it rarely effects my coursework because I don’t have to be in class at a specific time. It also helps that if I have days where I need to rest and it is difficult to get dressed, I can work on easier assignments in my pajamas.
- Take time off- this is a scary option for many. There is often the fear that if you stop, you won’t go back. If you are actively seeking help from mental health professionals, the odds of you never finishing your degree are slim.
- Work ahead- This option is a lot more difficult, but if you are planning on sticking to a full course load, it will be beneficial. Work to get as much done as you can on good days. Take advantage of those moments of high energy and channel it into getting coursework and chores done. Plan ahead as much as you can so when you are having a bad day, it will be less stressful knowing that it won’t put you behind.
Most importantly: be a friend to yourself. I completely understand that this is easier said than done and I will admit that I still struggle with this. If you mess up, it’s okay. Try not to be too judgmental of yourself. If a friends messed up and couldn’t get homework done or was having a bad day and had to stay in bed, you wouldn’t tell them how lazy and stupid they are. So, don’t do that to yourself! You are valuable, loved, and overall an amazing person with the potential to make a difference in the world. No one can fulfill the role that was meant for you. Please don’t give up. Getting help is a long process and sometimes it seems endless, but it’s worth it.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental illness, please seek out help. It takes a strong person to reach out and ask for help. If you made it through this article, you can make it through the phone call to make an appointment!