Post-Grad Depression: The Aspect of Graduating No One Warns You About

Graduation day is one of the most important days in a college student’s life, but what happens after you walk the stage and accept the degree you’ve worked so hard for? 

Some people may instantly find work in their field, while for others it may take more time; some may move to a new city and others may move back home. No matter your plans after graduation, there’s an unpleasant feeling that unfortunately creeps on many graduates — post-grad depression. 

Being a college student and all that comes with it — whether that be social gatherings, close proximity to friends, or just the daily routine of going to and from class —  becomes a part of your identity. After graduating, it may feel like a part of you is suddenly stripped away. 

Graduating from college is a huge life transition. Adjusting to not being a student for what may be the first time in your life, and finding your footing in the “real world” is challenging and can often lead to depression.  

According to Healthline, depression among young adults ages 18 to 25 has steadily risen over the past decade. Young adults now have double the rate of depression as the general population (people over the age of 18).

In addition, a 2020 survey screened 15,000 graduate students for depressive symptoms and found that the rate of depressive symptoms increased more than two-fold between 2019 and 2020 from 15 percent to 32 percent.

“Change, in general, can bring about feelings of sadness. College graduation represents a major life transition and with that transition can come feelings of sadness or concern about the future. For many, graduating college can mean that multiple aspects of their life change relatively quickly (i.e., finding a new place to live, starting a new job, meeting new people). In essence, this becomes a bit of change-overload and it can be overwhelming for many individuals to navigate these additional stressors,”

Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., a clinical counselor and Talkspace provider

Not knowing what comes next after graduating college is nerve-wracking but normal.

Just a year ago I was walking across that stage and saying goodbye to my friends that became family and the campus that became my home. While making the drive home I couldn’t help but wonder “What now?” It felt like the life I was accustomed to was suddenly a thing of the past and I just had to soldier on and start a new beginning. 

I know I’m not alone, many graduates have trouble adjusting to their new normal after graduating from college.

There are many factors that can lead to post-grad depression, including pressure or difficulty finding a job, moving back in with parents, having trouble adjusting to adulthood, comparing yourself to others, paying off student loan debt, or not being able to see friends as often or as easily. 

Post-grad depression is often accompanied by a quarter-life crisis — a period of stress and anxiety in a young adult’s life over the direction in which it’s going. 

Many “twenty-somethings” experience this uncertainty when it comes to their future. According to psychologists Joan Atwood and Corine Scholtz, a quarter-life crisis may be accompanied by an emotional crisis, “the sense of desolation, isolation, inadequacy, and self-doubt, coupled with a fear of failure.” These feelings are also common symptoms of post-grad depression. 

Recognizing the symptoms of post-grad depression is important so that you may seek help. These symptoms may include loneliness, lack of motivation, isolating oneself,  a sense of hopelessness or feeling worthless, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, brain fog, or loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. 

Often times these symptoms may confuse recent graduates because they are expected to feel happy and relieved after graduating. It’s perfectly okay to feel these feelings and work through them rather than ignore them. 

Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted your feelings of post-grad depression you can take certain steps to overcome it.

Many consider therapy when working through these difficult emotions. A therapist can help you to understand why you are feeling a certain way and point out steps you can take to begin to heal and move forward after graduating from college.

Certain lifestyle changes and self-care practices can also help manage depression. Some tips include finding creative outlets or hobbies, staying active and eating healthy, reaching out to friends and family, joining a meetup group, prioritizing self-compassion and self-care, and practicing mindfulness or meditation.

With our identity so wrapped up in who we were and what we did in college, it can be difficult moving on — but remember life doesn’t end after college! It may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable but with a change in perspective, life after college can be a beautiful new beginning.

“It’s really okay to not have all the answers. The answers will come—for sure—if you can accept ‘not knowing’ long enough to get still, and stay still long enough for new thoughts to take root in your more quiet, deeper, truer self.”

– Tennessee State Unversity Alum, Oprah Winfrey, Facebook Virtual 2020 Commencement