Often times it comes in waves, big then small, unexpected and unpredictable. Depression doesn’t look the same on each person, so when you try to explain to friends – they may doubt you, brush it off, and shake their heads. No, you’re not. It’ll pass. You’re not really depressed.
Handling mental health illnesses while at college can be incredibly distracting to the success of one’s academic and social careers. After living in Argentina for five months, I didn’t know how to re-acclimate myself to the college culture again. I had a hard time expressing to my friends that I thought I had post-abroad depression. Being such a happy person on the exterior, they refused to believe that I was struggling to the extent of depression. I was hurting in nuanced ways that I could barely understand – much less communicate to someone else.
I honestly thrived adjusting to a new lifestyle, but a country with a different language and everyday customs also brought a barrel of daily obstacles for me. While I had a network of support through my study abroad program and host family, I still felt exceptionally alone with my experiences. With only five months to live in Buenos Aires, I pushed my personal boundaries each day and remained outside of my comfort zone most of the time. Eventually it wore on me.
Upon return to the United States, I realized I had brought back that constant feeling of vulnerability with me. I felt alone and confused and sad and liberated and everything in between. I didn’t know how to adequately share my stories with friends in college or adjust to the “new me” in an old, familiar place. It took a long time for me to realize that my depression wasn’t going to disappear with time if I didn’t actively address the root issues that surfaced through when I cried. I needed to accept that I wasn’t okay and that I needed help. I wanted to feel complete again; I had to realize that I needed more time to grow into the person I was already becoming.
Here are some tips to help cope with depression in college. Please note that every form of depression is different for everyone. Recognize your own mental and emotional health needs when seeking help.
1. Acknowledge It
Being open to the word “depression” is a huge step. The more I could identify the type of sadness and pain I was feeling based on my own mental health, the better I could work towards understanding and working through my personal depression.
It may scare or bother people that you’ll begin talking about your depression. It’s most important that you can come to terms with it yourself. Don’t be afraid to share when you feel comfortable doing so. Your comfort level is number one priority.
2. Talk to Someone
I found solace in a friend who studied abroad on another continent, but returned back to campus with the same confusing feelings. We are talkers, so I always knew I could ask her to grab coffee and talk through what I was thinking without feeling judged or out of touch. I could share with her all of the things that now bothered me about being on campus with fellow college students. Her own feelings resonated with mine and it definitely helped.
You don’t have to find someone who gets it to have someone you can depend on with all of this. But it is important to talk about it. Maybe it’s a friend, a parent, or an outside third party (school counselor, other therapist professional). Do what feels best for you.
3. Connect with a Community
In my case, there were some days where all I wanted to do is talk about my abroad experiences. The catch is, though, that most of my friends who didn’t go anywhere that semester don’t have a long attention span for all of my “you had to be there” stories. I had to come to terms with this reality, and regardless of your situation, do your best to not take it too personally. I learned to talk to my study abroad friends and host family when I wanted to reminisce. Bringing these wonderful people back into my life always lifted my spirits.
Reach out to your network of friends and family. Ground yourself in relationships, even when it feels like the hardest thing to do. Work on yourself while taking on activities that will put you with people you can open up to and create bonds that will support you when you need someone.
4. Take Your Space
Be okay with not going out as often or taking some alone time. Choose your own comfort and happiness first. Constant socializing can become overwhelming so schedule time where you can be on your own. Take up space and make choices that will help you heal. The little things may upset you unexpectedly. Take a step back and encourage reflection rather than refusing to handle your depression.
5. Seek Out Campus Resources
Figure out if utilizing a college psychologist is the right choice for you. I communicated with my study abroad program center and discussed my difficulties in reintegrating into both the United States as well as a college campus again. These resources can help connect you with upperclassmen that have also experience post-abroad depression or similar challenges. Your center might also have other resources or cathartic activity ideas to help you sift through the up and downs of your emotions.
Look for ways to speak to your university if there aren’t already venues for you to find guidance and support. Some campuses have student-led organizations or clubs that advocate for healthy choices and work to take away the stigma that surrounds mental health. If you have this, reach out to these people. They are a wonderful resource
I wouldn’t trade my five months in Buenos Aires for the world. Most days, my experiences were exciting, rewarding, and fun. There were other days that took everything in me not to break. I hold onto all of these memories because they are what have built me up and remind me that there is nothing I cannot conquer. Even depression. It is something that can be helped and healed. Discovering the root of your mental health illness is essential to overcoming it.
You will be okay. You are not alone.
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