Darren Baker /

College may be the time of your life, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally feel sad, upset, and discouraged. You might lose the class election or receive a failing grade on an essay you thought you aced. If you moved far from home, you might miss your high school friends or your family. You could feel lonely before you make lasting friendships. These emotions are normal if they pass quickly and if you develop healthy coping strategies. However, if these feelings last for more than two weeks you may be experiencing depression.

Disclaimer: Any information found within our website is for general educational and informational purposes only. Such information is not intended nor otherwise implied to be medical or legal advice by Student Caffé Corporation. Such information is by no means complete or exhaustive, and as a result, such information does not encompass all conditions, disorders, health-related issues, respective treatments, or recovery plans. You should always consult your physician, other health care provider, or lawyer to determine the appropriateness of this information for your own situation or should you have any questions regarding a medical condition, treatment or recovery plan, or legal situation. Click to read the full disclaimer.

How do I know if I am suffering from depression?

Feelings of sadness and discouragement are normal, especially after something negative and unexpected happens, but there are ways to ease your emotions. You can exercise, eat right, call your friends on the phone, and do the things that you enjoy. It also helps if you have something to which you’re looking forward: a trip home, a study abroad trip, or a summer internship, for example. If you still feel sad, lonely, or unimportant, check in with yourself. Can you pinpoint the cause of your feelings? Do you feel this way most days?

If your negative feelings persist for more than two weeks, you could be suffering from depression. Like many other mental and mood disorders, depression carries a stigma, but the truth is that it’s prevalent, especially among young adults. The National Institute of Mental Health has found that 18- to 25-year-olds are at least 50% more likely to have depressive episodes than older adults. No matter how much you feel otherwise, you are not alone.

What are the symptoms of depression?

There’s more to depression than just the intense feelings of sadness. Different people will experience different symptoms, some of which are identified by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Prolonged and uncontrollable sadness or numbness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of motivation to complete everyday tasks
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and extracurricular activities
  • Apathy
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia and/or oversleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches and stomachaches
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide

Please note that if you are having suicidal thoughts, you should seek help immediately. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to speak with a trained counselor in your area. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you prefer, you can use Lifeline Chat instead; it is also available all day, everyday. You may also consider reaching out to a friend, professor, or staff member at the campus health center who can help you get help.

Are there different types of depression?

Depression affects people to varying degrees, so not everyone will experience the same or all symptoms. Some people suffer from only one depressive episode in their lifetime, but for most people, depression is recurring. Depression can take one of many forms:

  • Major depressive disorder is a form of depression that persists and interferes with everyday life the majority of the time. It is marked by loss of interest in activities and a diminished self-worth. Physically, it could cause changes in weight, sleep schedule, energy level, and focus.
  • Dysthymia is a mild form of depression, but it can last for months or years at a time. Because it is chronic, it can cause feelings of numbness and apathy. People with dysthymia may struggle to recall what it’s like to feel happy because they have learned to function with the disorder. In fact, they may think their feelings of depression are normal.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that recurs every year. It is sparked by the changing of the seasons, usually as fall becomes winter and the sun is weaker. Students who come from sunny hometowns should be particularly vigilant if they are moving to campuses in colder regions. Although SAD can be treated with talk therapy and medications, just as other forms of depression are, the Mayo Clinic also suggests the use of phototherapy (light therapy). This involves spending time outside or sitting next to a light box during the colder, darker months.
  • Psychotic depression usually manifests as a major depressive episode combined with psychosis, a break from reality. People suffering from psychotic depression may experience hallucinations.
  • Bipolar disorder, also called manic depression, is not exactly a form of depression, but it is similar. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness which causes sudden mood swings, specifically between manic highs and depressive lows.

The good news is that all types of depression are treatable. Medical doctors may prescribe medications to balance the chemicals in your brain, and counselors may help you develop coping strategies. Until then, if you do not seek help and depending on the severity of the disorder, an episode could last for months or years. It could also worsen. Severe depression increases the risk of suicide. Please seek medical and/or mental health attention immediately if you begin to contemplate ending your life. Refer to Student Caffé’s section on suicidal thoughts for more information.

How is depression diagnosed?

Depression knows no bounds. It affects people of all races, sexes and gender identities, sexual orientations, and ages, though it has been shown to be particularly prevalent in young adults. If you think you could have depression, speak to a doctor about your symptoms.

Usually, a doctor will perform a physical exam and associated lab tests to make sure that depression, not an underlying physical illness, is causing your symptoms. Your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms and how long they have persisted. To be diagnosed with depression, you must exhibit multiple symptoms, particularly prolonged sadness or loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy. These symptoms must persist almost daily for at least two weeks.

Your primary care doctor may also refer you to a mental health specialist for further evaluation.

How is depression treated?

Research on depression has been thorough, which has led to the development of many treatment options. Depression is usually treated with medication, talk therapy, or both. Sometimes, it takes a little patience to figure out the right course of treatment for you.

Some people with depression have a chemical imbalance in their brain, so oftentimes, a doctor will prescribe a type of medication called an antidepressant to regulate the brain’s chemistry. There are many different medications available, so it is important to see your doctor regularly and communicate any improvement or side effects you have noticed after starting a new drug. This information will help your doctor adjust your prescribed dosage or switch you to a new drug.

You may also consider therapy with a mental health specialist. Some people who suffer depression are most interested in learning how to regulate their emotions. After a few months, they may feel prepared with strategies to tackle their depression alone, with or without medication. Other people prefer to stay in therapy for years. You and your health care specialist can decide what’s right for your situation.

What resources are there for people suffering from depression?

For everyone:

  • Crisis Call Center
    • Call 1-800-273-8255 toll-free or text ANSWER to 839863 (standard data rates apply).
    • Helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • National Institute of Mental Health
    • Call 1-866-615-6464 toll-free for information on clinical trials and research.
    • Helpline is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (EST).
  • The Samaritans
    • Call 212-673-3000 toll-free
    • Helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    • Calls are confidential and anonymous. Caller ID is not used.

For Spanish speakers:

  • National Institute of Mental Health
    • Call 1-866-615-6464 toll-free for information on clinical trials and research.
    • Helpline is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (EST).

For teens and adolescents:

  • Thursday’s Child
    • Call 1-800-872-5437 toll-free.
    • Helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For LGBT+ youth:

  • The Trevor Project
    • Call 1-866-488-7386 toll-free.
    • Helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    • Chat with a counselor seven days a week, 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (EST).
    • Text 1-202-304-1200 between 3:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.

Page last updated: 01/2018