Depression and other mental health issues among students are well documented, and finally, are being discussed and treated more and more. From freshers week to final exams, money worries to exhaustion and loneliness, University is riddled with huge pitfalls for students. But, the problems don’t suddenly end there.
Everyone focuses on mental health at University, but no one really focuses on the mental health of students after they have graduated.
Graduate depression is a very real thing, and for a lot of students is unexpected. Dealing with major life-changing transitions after university is tough, and it’s taxing for graduates to cope with an overwhelming mix of emotions once they’ve reached the end of their studies. Statistics show that one in four students suffers from depression during their studies, but the problem is that no official figures exist for those who have just graduated, because once students leave university, they seem to slip out off the radar. 95% of those asked by Claire Dyckhoff, do believe that post-university depression is very real, and 87% say there needs to be more exposure shone on it, especially by Universities.
Finishing university is supposed to be a wonderful time. You are free of the constraints of education, and suddenly you find yourself out and thrust into the open world full of possibilities. After three or more years of demanding coursework and gruelling exams, it’s very easy to suddenly be met and overcome with a feeling of ‘what now?’ as you don’t have concrete plans and may not even be too sure what it is you want to do with your life.
Some students might have graduate jobs already lined up, but for a huge majority, this is not the case. We all know it’s a tough market out there too, so graduate jobs can take time to locate and secure. It can feel as though you’re seemingly applying for dozens of jobs, all of which are incredibly competitive, and it is very disheartening to receive rejection after rejection. You feel astounded that all employers seem to want their graduate candidates to have unrealistic experience for an entry-level job, and when every friend and family member constantly quizzes you on what you’re doing next, you just don’t know what to say.
There’s also not enough focus on what a student loses when they graduate. Most after graduating will move back in with their parents as their friends move on to other pastures and student loans are no longer there to support and fund lifestyles. Not only is this a big loss of independence and freedom, but it can also just feel like a huge step backward. One minute you are living in your own place doing everything for yourself, and then the next you are back at your parents feeling just as dependent as you were before you became an adult.
There’s also the structure that not just University, but education brought you. You attend the same lectures and classes each week, go to the same clubs, and go through the same cycles of exams, holidays and coursework. For those not immediately entering work suddenly there’s not much to do. There are no lectures to go to, no essays to hand in, and the friends you’ve been a short stroll from for the past three years are now suddenly hours away.
Each summer throughout University was tough for me, as I would really struggle with the feeling of having nothing to do. I am someone who always needs that next project to work on, so if I had nothing in the summer, I would often feel lost. Projects, essays and lectures, loathed by most, was almost a form of self-care for me. This feeling somewhat peaked after graduating. Not only did I feel like I no longer had a purpose, but also, I was struggling to find a graduate job, and was having to cope with the realisation there wasn’t university to go back to in September.
Once you have graduated, it’s very easy to have the dream future in your head of the perfect job so it can be very disconcerting if it doesn’t materialise right away. Nearly 40% of graduates are still job hunting after six months of graduating, and 1 in 3 enter temporary or fixed term contracts in their first role. Graduates on average take two or three years to settle into stable employment and all too often are taking any job just to make ends meet while looking for their ‘dream’ job. But that’s not to say that graduate depression simply ends after getting the first job within your field.
It’s one thing to study a discipline for four years, but doing to the job day in and day out is another thing entirely. If the first day, week, or month doesn’t go well it’s common to feel as those maybe you took the wrong path, the wrong job or even the wrong degree. It can take a long time to adjust for some graduates. Maybe it doesn’t match up to expectations. At University it’s all about you and yourself, but at work, you can be just another cog in the machine and can be very lonely.
So, what needs to be done to help graduates with their mental health? There definitely needs to be more focus on students transitioning from university to employment, but where do graduates receive this? University services do a great job of providing services to students, but once they graduate, they fall off the radar. Students may not believe they can still use these services once they leave, and it’s up to Universities to make it clear they can. We also need to make sure that graduates can access support services in work, and I feel proud to now work for a company that gives all employees access to an assistance programme providing support and guidance both in and out of work.
So, what can graduates do to help themselves cope with graduate depression?
• Create some structure for yourself.
Without the structure that both University and bring to student’s lives, it’s easy to start drifting, not sleep properly, lounge around and lose control. Take small steps to create your own new structure: set an alarm, plan regular exercise, join a new club, the choices are endless.
• Don’t compare yourself to others.
Some people have a graduate job organised before they graduate, and for some people, it will take a few rejections. Don’t let job hunting consume your life, and don’t judge your success against others. We only see everyone’s best lives on social media.
• Accept that there will be pitfalls along the way.
I’m sure you have that dream job or path in your life, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t reach it right away. Also, it’s OK if you don’t have an exact idea of what you want to do — you will get there, and you can focus on yourself along the way.
• Seek help and support where you can.
Use both your universities support and career services for help with employment, mental health, and handling the transition from University to the big Old World.
Also, seek out any support you can at work, at home and if you need to, go and talk to your local GP, they are all there to help you.🔷