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What is Post-Graduation Depression and How to Overcome It

Although post-graduation depression isn't a diagnosable condition separate from depression, it's a commonly experienced phenomenon for students who have recently graduated from college.
A student wearing a cap and gown walking away from the camera

Post-Graduation Depression is not a term that could be found in the American Psychiatric Association's dictionary, but research shows how real it is and the impact it has on recent grads.

Depression in young adults may occur right after they complete university coursework, often due to pressure to get a job right away or sadness leaving their college peers and life behind, according to medical journal Addictive Behaviors Reports.

Dr. Matt Glowiak, clinical faculty at SNHU

In addition, by the time a student graduates from college, they have spent the majority of their lives as students. Dr. Matt Glowiak, a clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) with over a decade of experience as a counselor, said that higher education students have attended school for close to 20 years and it has become a major part of their identity.

"When people face an obstacle that threatens their identity, mental health may become compromised," said Glowiak. He said questions such as, "Who am I?" "What will I do next?" "Will I be successful at seeking, attaining, and maintaining employment in my field?" and others may arise among recent graduates.

Why is Post-Grad Life So Hard?

According to Ryan Aldrich, post-graduation depression is marked by feelings of inadequacy, sorrow or grief related to academic performance and its connection to life outside academia.

Aldrich is a business consultant and an adjunct instructor of psychology at SNHU who holds a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology and is currently earning a Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change.

Ryan Aldrich, a psychology adjunct instructor at SNHU

"Graduates can manifest feelings of depression due to a lack of continued academic engagement, challenges finding a job with their new degree or not seeing a clear connection between completion of a degree and improvement in their lives," Aldrich said.

Quite often, post-graduation depression is accompanied by a quarter-life crisis — a feeling that makes “twenty-somethings” doubt their life values and purpose. According to psychologists Joan Atwood and Corinne Scholtz, a quarter-life crisis is a developmental stage in which individuals around 18-29 years old navigate their way into adulthood.

Aldrich noted that post-graduate depression also can stem from an expectation that your progress after graduation will be linear. "We tend to envision the best-case scenario: study, graduate, get a great job, have an amazing career, live a successful life," said Aldrich. "When this isn’t our reality, it can trigger depression and feelings of failure."

He said being aware of non-linear progress is essential to staying grounded and keeping a positive mindset about the future.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

"Depression in general can manifest in many ways," Aldrich said. "Self-awareness is the best tool to recognize changes in behavior and emotion."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some signs of depression to look out for include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty with concentration and decision-making
  • Fatigue and sleep difficulties
  • Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, sadness or anxiety
  • Loss of interest in your hobbies and daily activities

Aldrich said this last symptom is especially important to watch out for. "The sudden loss of interest in activities that used to be stimulating and engaging is a very common sign, especially if associated with recent graduation," he said.

How to Prevent Post-Graduation Depression

For students approaching the end of their academic journey, there are ways to prevent post-graduation depression.

An icon of a person meditating with their hands up.

Developing a plan to manage stress can help you prepare for some of the struggles you might face after graduation. Practicing mindfulness and focusing on self-care can also help you stay in touch with your mental health so you can react quickly and reach out for help if you notice changes in yourself.

Staying goal-oriented during this time can also be beneficial. "One suggestion would be to adopt a knowledge-based stimulating activity," said Aldrich.

He recommended joining a book club or teaching yourself something new.

"Personally, I self-taught myself photography and shared my knowledge with others," he said. "To feel engaged in teaching and learning, even outside the traditional academic environment, helps us feel connected to others via knowledge and mutual benefit."

Aldrich suggested finding ways to apply the knowledge and skills you gained from your education during this period or engaging in experiential learning related to your studies. "This is especially important if there are challenges securing employment after graduation," he said.

However you decide to spend your time after graduation, having a daily schedule may have beneficial impacts on many aspects of recent graduates' lives, including mental health. According to a nationally ranked academic medical center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH), some benefits of a daily routine include:

  • Better stress levels and improved mental health as a result of extra time to relax and less anxiety over making decisions on the go.
  • Better sleep habits and increased mental sharpness if the bedtime routine is also included in the schedule.
  • Better overall health due to extra planning. The more chores and activities are included in a schedule, the more organized one can become when it comes to developing healthy habits, such as eating breakfast on time or exercising.

Where Can You Find Mental Health Help?

Many schools today offer counseling services and academic advising available to students. This means that students who feel depressed might look for help right on campus. Further, counseling professionals might recommend additional services to students to better fit their needs.

A white outline of a hand holding a yellow heartGlowiak also recommended reaching out directly to mentors.

“For me, it always helped to speak directly with my professors I regarded as mentors,” he said. “Each of these individuals faced similar situations prior to and upon graduation, and their experience may serve as guidance.”

These mentors might know students on a personal level, including their strengths and weaknesses and have knowledge of how to guide these individuals into the “real” world.

Some national resources that are also available include:

It's crucial for students to remember and be reminded by mentors and professors that their depression does not define them in any way and it is possible to overcome it.

"It certainly helps to speak to someone. This helps students recognize that they are not alone in their feelings," said Glowiak.

He said recognizing that these feelings are relatively common for many students approaching graduation allows one to see that such depression isn't necessarily pathological but a normal part of the human experience.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online college degree that can best help you meet your goals.

Aytaj Ismayilova is a communication graduate from Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.