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College Commuter Depression Is Real, & Here’s How An Expert Says You Can Cope

When it comes to living on-campus during your time in college, you’ll be exposed to many opportunities, such as campus activities, organizations, and all of the things that come with living the “college experience.” This is a time in your life when you’re able to gain a sense of community and adapt to a new environment — which might include roommates, new friends, and unprecedented relationships. But, what about those who are commuter students? Turns out, college commuter depression is a very real thing that many students struggle with.

Oftentimes, we fail to realize that many commuter students lack the sense of community from their school since they typically live at home with their families, and are unable to immerse themselves in the environment at their school. There are many factors that can cause them to develop feelings of depression and disconnection, mainly due to feeling isolated from the stereotypical college experience (which, in fact, does look different for everyone).

To learn more about college commuter depression, I spoke with licensed psychologist David Tzall, Psy.D to find out why it develops, and how students can cope.

Commuter students may feel disconnected from their university — especially socially. 

When it comes to being a commuter student, a student may be met with many obstacles that impact their everyday life — ranging from unexpected transportation issues to scheduling conflicts. Because of this, commuter students have to learn how to maintain flexibility, more so than other college students. 

Commuting from school can also be met with the anxiety of forming bonds with other students. “Building a social network and feeling connected to the college community can be more challenging [for commuter students] because they don’t live in the same space with their friends,” Tzall tells Her Campus. “Also, commuters might have limited access to on-campus resources like libraries, study spaces, and recreational facilities due to their off-campus status.”

Now, it goes without saying that commuter students can still have a support system that consists of their families — although, it may not feel the same. Spending less time on campus can impact the way a student makes friends, or forms relationships with professors and other professional contacts which can, in turn, impact their mental health.

College commuter depression is valid.

At some point, a college student will have difficulty managing their mental health due to the pressures of being successful. In fact, a 2021–2022 survey of students across 133 college campuses found that 44% of students reported symptoms of depression and 15% reported seriously considering suicide in the past year.

But, what about a commuter student? Is their mental health impacted just as much as an on-campus student? Tzall agrees.“It can certainly be impacted in a different way, but it can still be impacted nonetheless,” Tzall says. “A commuter student might feel more disengaged or isolated compared to those living on campus.”

Just because a commuter student still lives at home, doesn’t mean that their mental health won’t become impacted by college life. Though commuters can still maintain a great support system that consists of friends and family, it may make them think that it isn’t enough.

How can commuter students improve and cope with their mental health?

Thankfully, commuter students don’t have to go through their college journey alone. Like any other student, everyone should be treated to the right resources whenever needed. 

“There are many different strategies students can employ to work on their mental health,” Tzall says. “They can work on time management issues and organization like creating a daily or weekly schedule that includes classes, commuting time, study sessions, personal time and prioritize tasks and assignments to reduce last-minute stress.” 

Some other things that commuter students can do is build social connections by connecting with peers on campus and attending events. While you may not live on campus, you may have friends that do! Don’t let the fact that you don’t live in the dorms dictate your weekend plans, or day-to-day activities. At the end of the day, you can just head home, or stay with a friend who lives on campus for the night.

Also, many universities have clubs or groups that are designed to connect commuter students with each other. This could be a great place to meet folks who may be going through the same thing as you and can serve as a support system. Having friends in your life who can relate to your struggles can make them all the more validating.

It’s also important that a commuter student takes advantage of visiting the counseling services and health centers — especially if they’re feeling isolated. Making mental health a number one priority will help those with other factors in their life, as well as reaching out for help. No matter what your “college experience” looks like, know that it is valid — whether you’re on campus or off.

 If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Makalah Wright is the Campus Correspondent at Her Campus at UWG chapter. For the chapter, she has written personal essays about real-life experiences and she encourages readers to take inspiration or learn from it. Beyond her position as the CC, she is also a national writer for the wellness section of the website. So far, she has written articles based on mental health, relationships, and other wellness-related topics. She is a senior at the University of West Georgia, studying in public relations with a minor in music. After her undergrad, she plans to get a masters in public relations and work within the media industry. She also hopes to create her own foundation that will help with funding for the performing arts in schools. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with loved ones, shopping, traveling to new places, and drinking iced coffee. She also enjoys playing the clarinet and listening to all types of music, specifically jazz.