The fall comes around and you’re seeing all your underclassmen friends return to school, and settle back into the swing of things. And boom, it hits you: that chapter of your life is over for good. There’s no going back. And swallowing that reality pill is hard. Graduating from a university is one of the biggest bittersweet moments you’ll ever experience. Trust me when I say leaving college is a lot harder than going to college ever was.
Losing that part of your life, that part of your identity, and support system is difficult. Everything you’ve known for the last four years is gone. Your life changes completely. Slowly, gradually, depression weasels its way into your life. No one is prepared for that to happen to them. Some people may not even realize that’s what they’re experiencing. Especially since NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT POST-GRADUATION DEPRESSION, and it’s a very real issue that many graduates are facing and struggling with.
Before you know it, you’re constantly experiencing feelings of confusion, despair, and panic. You can’t sleep, but you can’t get out of bed in the morning. You lose your appetite and have no motivation to cook for yourself, and barely have any money to buy groceries anyway. So you end up cramming junk food down your throat whenever necessary. And forget working out, when you can’t even stay interested in any of your hobbies and favorite past times. You’re losing interest in everything, pushing people away, losing confidence in yourself, and you can’t seem to get motivated. Your mental health is slipping and it’s causing you to disregard the rest of your health. I haven’t called my dentist back in months, or my doctor back in weeks. Hell, it took me a month to be able to even write this article.
After graduation, you’ve completely lost a sense of your identity. You are no longer in your little college bubble that safely secured you for the past four years. All your friends are gone within a blink of an eye – and you were so focused on passing your finals you hardly had time to focus on spending time with your besties before they were gone. One minute you’re writing essays and studying for exams and the next you’re worrying about bills and paying loans and competing for jobs, with little time for a transition in between. We’ve been in school since we were 3-5 years old, graduating means leaving a way of life we’ve always known.
This makes settling into a career scary because you have to leave what you’ve always known behind, and pray you picked the right path. In college, you were constantly getting validation from your professors, faculty, peers, etc., but in the corporate world no one cares about you. College made you feel powerful and important, but in the corporate world there is little room for you and your input, which can amount to feelings of self-doubt and depression.
Some of us end up having to move back home because we don’t have the financial security to live on our own – and moving back home is a nightmare. Just as you were getting used to having your freedom and autonomy and very active social life, boom you’re back at home. Sure, you came home for holidays and on breaks, but this is different. It’s not a special occasion, it’s the real deal. You’re trying to adjust to losing your freedom and the social life you once had, and instead adhering to your parents rules again - which can cause you to end up fighting with your parents like it’s high school all over again. Eventually you slip back into your old routine, almost like you never left. And before you know it, it feels like you’re stuck in a rut.
Not to mention being closer to and surrounded by your family means you’re closer to their pressures – pressures you’re already getting from everywhere else. Everyone is always asking you what you’re doing with your life, and you feel like they’re all expecting some big concrete answer. But you have no clue.
The problem with all this free time also means you have more time to spend on social media, and you’re spending a lot of time on it. Which means you’re spending a lot of time watching your peers succeed while you don’t, and comparing yourself to them. You’re spending more time hating yourself, and feeling bitter. You start feeling like you’re failing, like you’re worthless, like it’s your fault. You start focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do. And suddenly your degree doesn’t feel like an achievement anymore.
The job market today is ruthless and highly competitive. You’re either underqualified for a job in your field, or overqualified for a minimum wage job to get you by. Seriously. Every minimum wage job I applied for or any job I applied for out of my field rejected me because I was overqualified or they feared I’d just quit the second I got an offer in my field. Didn’t matter if it was a job in customer service for retail stores, doctor’s offices, or anything of the sort. I couldn’t even get a job as a cashier at Petco. Petco! Ugh. Despite the fact that I had conducted research in my field for years, and participated in volunteering and extracurricular activities whenever I could (because I also held multiple part-time positions to support myself throughout school), I could rarely measure up to the unrealistic expectations the employers in my field held. These expectations land even harsher on low-income graduates because if you had to work throughout college to afford schooling, it meant you had less time to build relevant work experience and participate in extracurricular activities - never mind an unpaid internship. And these are the students that are at most risk when graduating because they have less to fall back on.
Applying for jobs becomes a job itself. You’re always online filling out job applications, and calling and emailing tons of employers. Then you’re coordinating and carting yourself off to all these interviews when you barely have the money for gas anyway. To survive in this job market you have to be competitive and resilient. But when your mental health is struggling it affects every aspect of your life - your relationships, career, and motivation. It can feel almost impossible to keep pushing yourself. Every rejection stings, beats you down. It makes it harder to keep trying. You start asking yourself ‘why won’t anyone hire me? Why won’t anyone see my worth?’ Which eventually translates to, ‘maybe I’m worthless’.
As the weeks of unemployment grow you start losing self-confidence and start feeling like you have no purpose. You spend your days in bed sitting on Indeed and LinkedIn, you start sleeping in and stop getting dressed, because you don’t see a point in trying. You begin to lose all the structure you had in your life as a college student, and instead are replacing it with financial stress.
Not having a job means you’re spending more time trapped at home, which gives your mind all the time in the world to scream at you. You begin wondering why that last employer didn’t see your potential, or how perfect of a fit you were for that position you really wanted. You have all these skills and potential, and you don’t know what to do with them. You have all this free time on your hands, but no motivation to do anything with it – which then makes you feel guilty. And the cycle continues.
You’ve completely lost the support system you’ve had for the past four years. And the feelings of loneliness start to drown you. You start craving attention and affection, which can lead to a road of bad decisions. You can start missing old relationships/exes/friends that you know weren’t good for you. Or you start filling your life with people that aren’t good company, and habits that aren’t necessarily healthy. Many people turn to alcohol, because why not? After months of working your butt off to get a job with nothing to show for it, a tequila shot sounds pretty good right about now. But those choices only make you feel more hollow, and don’t help you feel more successful.
Not to mention, college was a full-time gig that provided a lot of structure and mental exertion. College was an easy way to distract yourself from real life. Now that it’s over you’re forced to face the real world and everything you were running from. And with all the extra time on your hands all you can do is focus on all the obstacles, fears, or traumatic experiences you we’re desperately avoiding during your studies. You’ve spent so much time avoiding everything, that you’re not even sure how to face anything.
Life starts to feel like this stage will never end. Your mind starts to feel like your enemy, because you know it’s holding you back but you also don’t know how to fix it. Talking about depression at any point in life is hard, but it’s especially hard when you feel like you should be living the high life and instead can barely keep your head above water. No one else is talking about post-graduate depression, so why should you? You feel alone, and are scared to make yourself vulnerable by admitting that truth. You don’t want to seem weak, you don’t want to feel weak.
But here’s the truth: you are not alone in this struggle, and you don’t always have to be strong. It’s okay to admit you’re struggling, and seek help.