Dealing with University Depression
It is very normal and expected to have ups and downs throughout life. And like everything else in life, university has its own challenges, with students usually having to keep up with studies, part-time jobs, internships, relationships - and more - all in new surroundings, away from their family and friends back home. For a lot of people, including me, it quickly becomes exhausting to have to think and juggle several important tasks at the same time. Oftentimes, this persistent worry about studies, finances and personal life can create mental health complications, such as depression.
According to the University Student Mental Health Survey 2018, published by The Insight Network, 1 in 5 university students had some type of mental health diagnosis. However, the study reveals that depression is the most common one. Depression has many signs and types. Some are triggered by life events and others by chemical changes in our brain. It is important to remember that what might affect you, might not affect another person and vice versa. Just like each of us is different, depression hits us for various reasons and comes in many forms. Like mentioned above, biological factors such as brain chemistry or genetics as well as personal experiences/traumas can all be factors that trigger depression; hence why mental health should be seen and treated as a personal matter.
In this time and age, a high number of university students, who are usually young people still trying to find themselves, social media can be a big aggravator for harsh self-criticism which in some cases eventually leads to depression. According to David Rosenberg, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Wayne State University, our use of social media has been directly linked with sleep disturbance, feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Everyday, on various social media platforms, we see pictures and videos of people living the perfect life, looking their best and having healthy, flawless interpersonal relationships. But even if we technically know that these people only show the positive side of their days and edit their pictures/videos to perfection, it is still very hard for most of us to stop comparing our lives and ourselves to other people’s, which creates unrealistic goals and pressure. Another common reason us students might feel depressed is the lack of financial freedom and independence. According to the National Union of Students Insight, on behalf of Future Finance, two thirds of university students worry about money very often or even all the time. However, these are not the only reasons we might fall into depression during our university years. The following are also common worries and problems that might lead to mental health disturbances:
- Balancing studies with other responsibilities
- Personal, family, friendship or relationship problems
- Feeling or being lonely
- Social pressure
Before discussing solutions for when we fall into depression/depressive moods, I want to make it clear for you, the reader, that we should never self-diagnose mental health disorders but generally speaking, if one experiences a persistent low-mood or symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, a doctor/psychologist needs to intervene. Since students tend to worry about finances frequently, and doctor/psychologist appointments tend to be costly, HSE University does offer its students psychological support free of charge, which is a relief for most students. You can sign up for an appointment (the registration is anonymous) via the following link: https://spb.hse.ru/en/socq/psychology/ .
Now, some people might not feel ready to talk with anyone about their worries and mental health issues, and that is perfectly fine. It might be comforting to know that there are indeed several things/practices you can indulge in, independently of professional help, that might help to get you back on track in non-severe (and hence non-clinical) cases of depression/depressive moods.
Please note that many of the following tips can go hand in-hand and will work better when used in a complimentary way. I would also like to add that even people that do not necessarily feel depressed can use these upcoming, not so obvious tips (like eating healthy or working out), to boost their energy levels and liveliness up a notch.
Practice mindfulness exercises
Mindfulness exercises are a form of meditation exercises in which the practitioner focuses on being aware of what and how they are feeling in the moment, without any distrurbance. Mindfulness is centered around breathing methods and guided imagery among other things and is intended to relax the mind and the body to help deal with and decrease stress, pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia (interrupted sleeping/ sleeplessness) as well as high blood pressure. There are many ways to practice mindfulness both in an intense way like using guided imagery to do a session or incorporating it in your lifestyle like treating yourself as well as you would treat a person you love. If you are interested to know more about mindfulness and how to practise it, a simple google or youtube search will take about 15 seconds, and who knows if that little search might change the way you handle yourself forever.
Spend time in the nature and outside
Spending time in nature has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression. The benefits of spending time outdoors, especially in green areas have been researched by many. According to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, if seeking therapy or taking medication for depression is not an option for you, spending time in nature can be one of the key self-improvement tools you can use. So, next time you are feeling sour, get out and walk in a park (there are plenty of them around the city) for 20-30 minutes. You will get both a light exercise which in itself is also proven beneficial for mental health and spend time in nature. Double points for you!
Like I mentioned above, for a lot of people starting university often means moving away from loved ones and being in a new city on your own at first. Therefore, it is crucial to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and make an effort to get to know new people. Students Against Depression states that “Depression thrives in conditions of social isolation and loneliness. Breaking this isolation and reaching out to others for support is a powerful way in which to fight depression”.
I do understand that it is not always easy to make friends, especially if you are new to an environment in which everyone knows each other but you do not know anyone. Therefore, I suggest living in one of HSE’s dorms as you can meet lots of students to make a connection with. If living in a dorm is not possible, you can always join a campus club or search for an activity you enjoy.
Depression thrives in conditions of social isolation and loneliness. Breaking this isolation and reaching out to others for support is a powerful way in which to fight depression.
Improve your sleeping schedule
This should be obvious to most people but it is easy for our sleeping habit to be overlooked. As students, we tend to have a really toxic relationship with sleeping. Living in a dorm and getting to meet university students literally around the clock, I have noticed that getting a healthy sleeping schedule seems like a struggle for a lot of people, including me. I often meet students that are still awake at around 3 or 4 am in the hall while going down to the entry hall to fill up my water bottle or in the study room. I think students are specifically prone to having a bad sleeping routine due to the overload of things we have to do. We only have 24 hours in a day but we also have to schedule cooking, studying, resting, sleeping and socializing. Some people might even have to work. Putting all these tasks together might become very overwhelming and can result in procrastinating university work hence the students I see studying late at night or very early morning. The key to having a good sleeping schedule is to go to sleep at a specific hour every night, avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other substances a few hours before bedtime as those can make it harder to fall asleep, as well as developing a soothing pre-sleeping routine, like reading a book.
All these tips are critical and important for our mental health. Practicing even one of them on a regular basis can help immensely, but learning to incorporate them all together can truly make a huge difference.