How to Navigate Depression While in College

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Studying is one of the most important times of your life, and almost always one that will impact the rest of your life the most. Therefore, most of us heavily prioritize and try to give it our all. Unfortunately, if you’re one of the 8.3% of adults who struggle with debilitating depression and depressive episodes or one of the 22.8% of adults qualifying for a mental illness diagnosis, that approach will often leave you feeling more burned out, depressed, and unable to keep going.

Millions of Americans struggle with depression. It’s important to acknowledge that depression is a normal part of life for many people. Treating it as an illness and taking steps to care for yourself, get extra support, and ensure you’re prepared to manage your depression alongside studying instead of just ignoring it, will help you get through college.

Navigating depression is difficult, even if you don’t have any other goals. However, these steps will help you to do so by taking care of your own mental health.

Talk to Your Doctor

It’s always a good idea to take time to discuss your mental health and your goals with your doctor. Setting reasonable expectations, check-in points, and understanding your limitations is important. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you have a diagnosis, so you can work with your college to ensure that you get the care and support you need.

Talking to your doctor may result in:

  • Being moved into a support program with a counselor or psychologist at your college
  • Getting medication for depression
  • Taking CBT or another form of therapy
  • Being recommended into a slower study track to ensure you have the time and energy to complete it

The right solutions for you will always depend on your mental health and where you are right now.

college student

Invest in Self Care

Taking care of yourself is one of the most important ways to navigate depression. If you’re also relying on yourself to be up for studying, exams, etc., you’ll have to ensure you have the physical and mental energy for them.

Self-care can look like basic self-care like:
  • Have a bedtime and wakeup time where you go to bed and get out of bed at about the same times every day at least 90% of the time
  • Eat about 80% healthy food following the guidelines of a government recommendation like
  • Get 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day at least 4 days per week
  • Remove screens and distractions from your sleeping space. Turn screens off at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Invest in keeping your space relatively clean, so it doesn’t add to depression.
  • Spend time on social activities so you don’t start to feel lonely.


However, self-care can also look like preventive care:
  • Don’t take morning classes if you know that it takes you time to be up and functioning in the morning
  • Get help with chores or swap chores with a dorm mate if you’re not up for or are bad at keeping up with certain things
  • Get a counselor or sign up for accommodation services – which will require registering depression as a disability
  • Find someone with similar classes to you and try to pair up for studying, showing up to class on time, and self-motivation
  • Enroll in social clubs so you make friends have fun activities planned for you


College is difficult, so trying to plan to minimize extra workload as much as possible can help a great deal. That’s especially true if you’re struggling with depression, which might make getting out of bed difficult, sticking to routines difficult, etc.

young college students making friends

Take Time for a Social Life

College can be an incredibly lonely period for many of us. Depending on where you go, it may feel that you either have to join parties and stay up late to engage with others, engage in constant competition, or be alone. That isn’t true. Most universities and colleges have dozens of clubs and social opportunities designed to help students make friends. Talking to the people in your classes and starting initiatives to pair up and help each other study can also be extremely useful.

But, chances are, you will miss friends and family. Make use of video calling and calling to stay in touch, continue talking with those friends and family, and try to keep having fun with them. It will reduce how much you feel alone.

Take Time Out When You Need It

It’s important that you prioritize college and try to finish it on-schedule for your degree and that you do your best to get a good grade. However, it’s also important that you take care of yourself and understand your own limitations. Doing so may mean taking breaks from college to attend mental health treatment. It may also mean slowing your graduation trajectory, so that you have less pressure and fewer daily tasks. It may also mean something like dropping a course. Understanding that you have an illness and using that as a guideline to manage your limits, so you don’t overextend, will help you to get through college so you can actually graduate. And, that’s a lot more important than graduating when or how you expect to.

male college student getting professional help

Get Professional Help

There are many resources built into universities and colleges specifically designed to offer college students the mental health help they need. That can mean counseling, therapy, courses, and even live-in support specialists who can help ensure you have the routines and rituals you need to succeed. It’s also often an idea to take summer breaks to go to mental health treatment, to go to outpatient therapy when in university, and to spend time actively working on your mental health. Even if you don’t need mental health treatment to keep you going, preventive care can do a lot towards ensuring you make it through college.

College is an important part of your life. However, balancing the stress and pressure of formal learning with depression can be difficult. It’s important that you take steps to ensure you have the help and support you need, to build the structure that makes depression as manageable as possible, and to reach out and ask for help when you need it.

Solace Treatment Center provides modern and effective  outpatient substance abuse treatment and outpatient mental health treatment to those looking for the next step in their recovery. Our staff of  seasoned and trained professionals are here to help you or your loved one grow into their new sober way of life.