A Common Challenge + Solutions From Our Therapists
A growing number of recent graduates are experiencing “post-grad depression.” While there has been much written about depression during college, there isn’t a great guide to dealing with depression after college. We decided to look into it. In this post, we discuss some common symptoms, causes and solutions to post grad depression.
Think you have post grad depression? It’s more common than you think.
Here are a few examples of how you might be feeling. These were taken directly from those who have experienced depression after graduating.
“I have been absent from work today sick as I try to get myself under control and think more clearly. I have been thinking very hard and resilience is something I want to strive to gain. In the world today as a young adult I struggle when anything seems to go wrong in regards to employment. Like you have advised with learning new skills and accepting failures. I just don't know where to begin though whenever I try to accept it and learn from it I just break down crying again....” Beyond Blue
“About 6 months ago, I got so low on money I applied for unemployment benefits, and I felt so embarrassed... I feel like all my studies have been wasted, and I honestly feel utterly useless.
All of my friends have found jobs or moved onto do PhD’s, and I feel incredibly stuck. I try my best to not compare myself to others, but I’ve never felt this horrible about myself before. I can't help but feel sad about the state of my life. I feel like a mess.
I have developed anxiety and chronic sadness, and have been getting so stressed that it's making me physically ill. I have really bad thoughts and doubts about my ‘self-worth’ and often feel very hopeless. I feel so ashamed of myself. I don’t know what to do. It's been a year, and all I have had are rejections. What am I supposed to do? Is it normal to feel like this?” - Student Room
These are just a few of the many personal stories, so yes, it is normal to feel like this.
In clinical terms, your symptoms of post grad depression may include:
Generally impaired functioning
Decreased motivation (getting out of bed)
Wasting time and procrastinating
Loss of interest in pleasurable things
A sense of disorganization or easily flustered by new tasks
Tired, regardless of how much sleep you get
General sense of hopelessness
An abnormally negative perspective
Occasionally substance abuse.
Reaching out to negative influences, just to achieve some sort of support system
Irritability or frequent mood swings
So what’s the cause?
Like any struggle, the causes and solutions to the problem are unique to you. We will go through some potential causes, so consider which of these may be relevant to your particular situation. We firmly believe at Whole Wellness Therapy that every solution begins and ends with the client—there is no one size fits all approach to therapy.
Cause: Changing Community and Relationships
During a major life transition such as moving to a new city, or leaving college, we leave our old social network behind. In many ways college is the perfect place to make new friends and learn new skills, but the real world is a little less so. Once you graduate you realize just how few “third spaces” (places in between work and home open for community use) are available to us. This is especially true during a pandemic when many of these places are closed.
In college “third spaces” like dorm lounges, cafeterias and free events are close by and structured by someone else. Now it’s up to you to build or find new spaces (which can be daunting). Joining a gym, meetup group or community organization are all great ways to learn a new skill and make friends. If you don’t find any that you would like to join, you can start your own.
For those that also suffer from social anxiety, this can seem almost impossible. If you find that a combination of post grad depression and social anxiety may be to blame, we have therapists specialized in social anxiety that can help you regain your footing.
Cause: Social Media Use + (Mis)Perceptions of Others
Social Media use and mental health issues are strongly correlated. That’s because, often we compare our life to what people post on their social media profiles. This is almost always a losing comparison. Contrary to popular belief, no one is happy, successful and beautiful all the time. This is a struggle that is most tangible for millennials, surrounded by virtual profiles and high expectations for “success”.
A study published in the April print issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that people who report using seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who use no more than two platforms, even after adjusting for the total time spent on social media overall.
“This association is strong enough that clinicians could consider asking their patients with depression and anxiety about multiple platform use and counseling them that this use may be related to their symptoms,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences and the center's director. Source
In our practice we have seen this as well. We understand that not all social media is inherently evil, but it does change how we think of ourselves. Often limiting how often you use social media or how many apps you use leads to a better quality of life. For most people, a social media detox of two weeks can help put this into perspective. You can take the time during these two weeks to reflect on what you really value in your life.
Cause: What We Value in Ourselves and Our Perceptions of Ourselves
Some aspects of depression can boil down to junk values, of which Johann Hari has written extensively about. You can think of these in the same way that we do of junk food, but instead of clogging arteries it clogs your thoughts.
“Junk food has taken over our diets, and it is making millions of people physically sick. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that something similar is happening with our minds—that they have become dominated by junk values, and this is making us mentally sick, triggering soaring rates of depression and anxiety.”
These may be thoughts that being super successful or wealthy are the be all and end all of life, instead of relationships and community. Is what you prioritize in your life making you happy? If not, perhaps try to reflect on what might.
Cause: Employment Situation + Career Outlook
Not everything can be solely your blame. Those who have graduated in this environment are facing struggles that we haven’t seen before. “The unemployment rate among millennials was around 8% before the pandemic hit, and now 35% of millennials have lost their job, making them the hardest hit by the pandemic. Those that do have jobs are participating in the gig economy more than ever before. For these people career instability is the norm. Self-employment in the United States could triple to 42 million workers by 2020, and 42 percent of those people are likely to be millennials.” [WSJ]
On top of that, of those that are employed very few are satisfied
“Thirteen percent of us like our work most of the time. Sixty-three percent of us are what they called “sleepworking”—you don’t like it, you don’t hate it. Twenty-four percent of people hate their work. So you think about that. Eighty-seven percent of people don’t like the thing they’re doing most of their waking lives.” -Johann Hari [Source]
Higher levels of workplace stress were associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety as well as lower levels of resiliency, job satisfaction, and healthy lifestyle beliefs. [Source]
New grads looking at this situation and graduating into the pandemic are going to have a difficult time finding a job to say the least. If you find yourself un- or under-employed understand that you are not the only one facing this right now. While the outlook is grim, you can advocate to change how you participate in the broader economy, or change your role in it (which we will cover), but in the meantime there are some ways to find personal peace.
Alright, But How Can I Get Past that?
Moving on could look like a few different things. Consider each one at a time.
Solution: Know Your Worth
Overcoming post grad depression is complicated but it starts with knowing your worth. Building (or rebuilding) your self esteem is an important foundation of personal growth. Many of us fall on different stages of the spectrum when it comes to self esteem. Some may struggle more than others, but keep in mind that personal growth takes time.
When it comes to what makes us worthy, it doesn’t boil down to money or possessions, but something deeper: your inherent worth. Many find benefit from spirituality or formal therapies focused on spirituality.
Solution: Changed Perspective + Goal Setting
One way to think about this is through the serenity prayer/meditation commonly recited in many recovery circles:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”
Often we can feel stuck in our own head and in our perceptions of the world. Things that we feel stuck with can actually be things that we can change, and things that we struggle to change may be things that we must accept. Having someone in your corner to help you consider what you should be spending mental energy on and what you shouldn’t can make all the difference. For some this means coaching or therapy.
After you have a clear understanding of your situation in the world, you can start to set goals. When setting a goal, keep in mind that it should be:
Exercise: Try setting a goal for yourself in terms of your biggest struggle in the past month.
When it comes to your career situation, many find benefit from seeing a career coach to help them determine their path to full time employment. It can feel like failure to admit you need to retrain yourself to a high demand job, but we prefer to think of it as re-birth.
Solution: Stress Management and Reflection
Americans are chronically stressed. We don’t set good boundaries when it comes to our work-life balance. We find it difficult to calm down after stressful situations. We don’t have good habits around our emotions. Learning some stress management techniques may help you find more peace in your life. Some find benefit in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Classes, in which they learn some meditation and mindfulness techniques to apply throughout daily life. We use these to some extent in our therapies as well.
Exercise: take a moment to reflect on your stressors that you have faced throughout the week. Make a list and brainstorm some ways that you can better manage these stressors. Can you decompress right after work for a few minutes?
Solution: Seek Help From Friends, Family or Therapy
We all need support from time to time. Our peers (perhaps old ones from college) can best sympathize with our struggles, even if they seem to be doing better now. If you find it difficult to share (especially your emotions) learning to open up to people that you trust can be an important step. Otherwise family can offer some moral support. If you don't feel comfortable talking with these support systems, that’s what therapy is for, and we may be able to help. Get Scheduled Here.
While your situation may be difficult now, it may be a small relief to know that you are far from the only person facing post grad depression and that many have been able to successfully “lift the fog” with some help. Hopefully you learned more about some causes of and solutions to post grad depression.
Learn more about our approach to depression here.
Stress is closely associated with depression. Read more on our article "The Problem with Stress."
Please Contact Us if you have any questions.