Freshman year of college is full of firsts. It was the first time I lived away from my parents, the first time I pulled an all-nighter for an exam (which, NEVER do this by the way), and the first time I went to a frat party. This was also the first time I went to see a therapist, went on antidepressants, and actually prioritized my mental health. Growing up, I had always struggled with my mental health, but it wasn’t until I entered college that I realized I needed to talk to someone about it. That year, I was diagnosed with depression, and ever since then, I have been navigating how to handle the academic pressures of college while managing my mental health. And I’m not the only one; 1 in 5 University of California Santa Barbara students will be affected by anxiety or depression during their undergraduate career. It’s such a prevalent issue, and I think the only way to combat this is by being open with one another about our experiences, and, hopefully, help each other out. So here are the five things that I’ve learned as a college student living with depression.
- If you’re not feeling well, go to the doctor immediately
I’m a stubborn person who would rather suffer while trying to fix something by myself than actually go get help. So when I felt tired all the time and like I was in a mental funk, I tried to work through it on my own. I went to bed earlier every night and slept in later every morning. But as the days went on, I only felt more fatigued. I was sleeping for a minimum of 12 hours every night and taking frequent naps throughout the day, but I would wake up, make breakfast, and go back to sleep because I was so exhausted. By this point, I didn’t have enough energy to get myself to a doctor so my roommate drove me to urgent care. Turns out, a symptom of depression is debilitating fatigue. After a simple increase in my prescription, I was back to normal within a few days. Listen to your body. If something feels off, don’t ignore it and go see a doctor. It’s so much harder to pull yourself out of a depressive episode once you’re in the thick of it.
- Therapy is seriously the best
I never thought I would be the type of person to go to therapy. I think that’s because the only exposure I had to therapy was from TV shows about crazed patients who would jump at the slightest sound or randomly break into fits of rage. But after my doctor diagnosed me with depression, he recommended that I see a therapist so I obliged. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe that I was going to be told to lay on a couch and talk about my childhood or that I would have to talk incessantly while she only responds with “and how do you feel about that?” However, it was neither of those things. I talked to her about everything from the feelings of depression that I was struggling with to an upcoming test that I was stressing about. She would give me the best insight into my problems and would help me to find a way to work through them on my own. I think we all get stuck in these mental ruts from time to time, whether it’s due to depression or just from going through life, and therapy can be a great way to learn new perspectives on your issues and find ways to resolve them.
- Figure out what triggers your depression, and make a plan to manage it
It took me a while to realize that every time my depressive symptoms would get really bad, it always occurred the week after midterms or finals. Stress is a major trigger for me. Making a plan to lessen the symptoms ahead of time can make it so much easier to cope with. For me, I schedule an appointment with my therapist during midterms or finals week, make sure to get extra sleep, and go to every yoga class that week. This is the time to be kinder to yourself and make an extra effort to care for your mental health.
- Find people you can talk to about this
My roommate during my sophomore year taught me this. When I first got diagnosed freshman year, I was really embarrassed. I felt like having depression meant that I was too emotionally sensitive or unable to handle my problems by myself. Feeling the weight of this stigma, I didn’t tell anyone about it. I felt like I was the only one who was struggling and it was so isolating. But when I began living with my sophomore year roommate, everything changed. She struggled with her mental health as well, and she was so open about it. It made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who had these problems and it wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Finding people you can talk to about your mental health not only validates the problems you might be dealing with but it also frees you from the harmful stigmas.
- Prioritize your mental health
In college, it’s so easy to get swept up in friends, school, or work that mental health is often forgotten about. I always find the time to hang with my friends or take on more hours at work, but I’m bad at taking the time to prioritize self-care. Even though I know that my mental health affects my physical health, emotional well-being, and even academic performance, I always seem to take it for granted. Of course, when I do this my mental health suffers. But the times that I focus on my mental health, I actually succeed in other aspects of my life. Whether it’s journaling, therapy or meditation, it’s important to allocate time to focus on yourself and your well-being.