Depression in college students. What to do?
It’s not very often that you hear someone say, “Wow, I really wish I had stepped back from college to focus on my health.” In fact, you probably will never hear it—from previous generations. But college students nowadays? Prepare to start hearing just that.

College is a unique time of change, excitement, and astronomical levels of stress. In a country hyperfocused on individual achievement, high school and college years are leaving students stressed, anxious, and depressed. With surveys indicating that over 60% of college students have experienced major mental health problems in their college years, it’s time to address the problem head-on.

So in the next few minutes, you’ll learn about why college students are particularly susceptible to depression, how to spot symptoms of depression, and methods of coping with depression.

Why college students?

There’s no single answer for why staggering amounts of college students are experiencing depression. Rather, a variety of factors are contributing to rising in depression and suicidal ideation. New stressors pop up every day, and when multiple stressors take their toll on a college student, depression is the unfortunate result.

Some of the most common stressors for college students include loneliness, sleeping problems, inconsistent eating patterns, concentration problems, and anxiety over academic performance.


While you might think college students are more connected than ever, thanks to social media, they’re feeling more isolated than ever. In fact, studies show that narcissism is on the rise. This alarming trend also indicates that the generation that grew up with social media is having a difficult time forming authentic connections. Once you throw those kids into a completely new social context, AKA college, they’re sure to struggle with finding community.

Even romance can play a role in stressing out college students enough to fall into depression. Let’s face it—college is full of opportunities to make romantic connections. From dorms to classes to organizations to sports, college students meet new people all the time. Which is exciting…until the breakup phase. At that point, college students are vulnerable to feelings of depression, reporting up to 43% experiencing symptoms of insomnia after a breakup.

Healthy Habits

As for sleeping and eating problems, college kids have demanding schedules. Those who have co-curricular or extracurricular activities have to manage classes, homework, and outside activities while allotting time to sleep and eat properly. Keep in mind that college is the first time that these students are living independently. Adapting to a new place with higher academic expectations and few previous social connections is stressful enough, but the added responsibility of managing a sleep schedule can push most over the edge.

Societal Pressure

Finally, societal pressures and rising costs are significant sources of stress that lead to depressive symptoms. As previously mentioned, schools in the United States are performance-driven, which leads to incredibly high pressure on students for academic achievement. This is hammered into students from childhood and driven home through testing in middle school and high school. 

Once they’re in college, the pressure doesn’t stop. Many students have scholarships either through their schools or from other organizations that require a good GPA to maintain eligibility. The stress of having to attain that level of academic achievement while adjusting to the social aspects of college can leave students feeling inadequate and hopeless.

Outside of the classroom, there are added pressures of rising costs of textbooks and almost every sector of life. With the average federal student loan debt balance sitting at $37, 574 , college kids are feeling the stress of expensive tuition. Even outside of tuition, the costs of housing, meals, and textbooks are on the rise. College is a huge bill that most students can’t afford without getting themselves into debt.


Now that we’ve established why college students are more depressed than ever, it’s time to figure out common symptoms of depression. If you can’t spot depression in your friend or in yourself, how can you decide it’s time to make a change?

According to Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of depression include:

  • Low energy
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of interest in your activities (e.g., school, clubs, social commitments)
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty with schoolwork
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Physical fatigue or problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Slowed thinking or moving

Students don’t need to show all these symptoms to be depressed. If they’re showing a majority of symptoms, that’s enough to warrant intervention. Besides the obvious importance of intervening before depressive symptoms turn into irreversible action, action toward diagnosing and treating depression can be the difference between getting a degree and not. With 64% of college students dropping out for mental health disorders, correctly identifying symptoms of depression might change the course of a student’s life.


Depending on the intensity of the college student’s depressive symptoms, there are multiple ways you can intervene on another’s behalf or develop coping skills for yourself. If you’re a college student who’s experiencing severe feelings of helplessness, please contact 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

But if you’d like to find coping skills for your depression, here are common practices that college students use:

  • Practice mindfulness (e.g. meditation, yoga)
  • Get adequate sleep on a regular basis
  • Connect with family and friends
  • Focus on good nutrition
  • Get physical exercise multiple times a week
  • Journal about your feelings
  • Attend free counseling on your college campus
  • Dedicate time to hobbies you enjoy

Luckily, college campuses are getting better about addressing student stress. Most schools offer free counseling services and events to relieve stress, like petting puppies. 


While the media might portray college as the “time of your life” with endless fun and social outings, college students today do not have a carefree experience. Due to outside pressures and a culture hyper-focused on achievement and results, college students are reporting depression at higher rates than ever.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of resources for college students to turn to when they’re feeling depressed, both on campus and in their personal lives. So if you’re struggling or know someone who’s struggling with depression in college, keep your head up and remember: you’re never alone.