9 Symptoms of Mild Depression in College Students
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9 Symptoms of Mild Depression in College Students

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Depression can make you feel bad about yourself, and deciding your symptoms aren’t “bad enough” to seek treatment is an easy trap to fall into. Ignoring them can lead to worse symptoms, and you can’t get help until you decide to ask.

Any depression symptoms or negative feelings that you notice for more than a few days in a row should be taken seriously, but the exact duration required for a diagnosis of depression varies. For a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD), symptoms must persist for at least two weeks. 

College and university administrators have more awareness about mental health problems than just a few years ago because of sharp increases in student need that started before the coronavirus pandemic. You’re definitely not the only person feeling this way.

This article sheds some light on what mild depression can look like and how to tell if you have it. We’ll also share some ideas on where to go from here.

What do different levels of depression severity look like?

Depression can vary in how it affects individuals, with symptoms differing from person to person. That’s one of the reasons it can be so hard to spot. Understanding the various levels of depression severity may provide insight into your own symptoms, helping you recognize whether they are mild, moderate, or severe.

  • Mild depression — Students with mild depression have negative feelings like sadness, hopelessness and guilt that stick around for several days at a time. While individuals with mild depression may still be able to perform their daily tasks, they may find it more difficult than usual and may experience a decreased sense of well-being.
  • Moderate depression — With moderate depression, students might notice heightened emotional sensitivity and excessive worrying. Symptoms interfere with class, work and social activities in a noticeable way.
  • Severe depression — Students with severe depression have similar symptoms, but friends and family will be able to tell there’s something wrong. You may skip class more often, have difficulty showering and eating, or have more serious mental health symptoms like delusions or thoughts of self-harm.

Addressing mild symptoms of depression

Again, no two people will have the exact same symptoms of mild depression. Maybe nobody else will be able to tell you’re depressed, but your usual activities will feel more difficult to you. You may be preoccupied with negative feelings and thoughts for several days at a time and start avoiding social situations. You can still show up to important commitments, but they may seem uninteresting or feel more like a chore.

Here are some possible signs and symptoms college students with mild depression may notice:

  1. Sadness for no particular reason that persists for several days

  2. Irritability when talking to roommates, friends or family

  3. Feeling hopeless about the future, or feeling that normal activities are pointless

  4. Lower self-esteem that may cause some social anxiety or reluctance to go to social events

  5. Difficulty getting up in the morning or staying awake in class

  6. Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep

  7. Eating more comfort foods or not having an appetite

  8. Engaging in reckless behaviors

  9. Being consistently late to classes, work and other commitments

What types of activities can mild depression symptoms interfere with? 

Changes in eating and sleeping habits are often some of the first things people with mild depression will notice. You may start to feel tired all the time or not be able to sleep at night. You could start to crave junk food or not feel hungry at all. 

Class participation can be more difficult with mild depression, so you may find yourself staying quiet and leaving as soon as it’s over. You might feel like you’re “going through the motions” at work. At social gatherings, you might not feel like you have anything to say, or you might start to avoid them altogether.

Is treatment still important for those with mild depression?

Yes, it’s important to get help for mild depression so you can prevent it from getting worse. Untreated depression can lead to various complications, including relationship problems, academic or work difficulties, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Addressing mild symptoms early can reduce the risk of these complications.

Mild depression is often less complicated to treat than moderate or severe depression. Early intervention can lead to faster and more effective treatment outcomes.There are some lifestyle changes you can make to boost serotonin levels in your brain, for instance, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, eating a balanced diet and getting daily exercise. It’s good to get outside and get some natural sunlight every day. 

Psychotherapy is likely the first treatment your health care provider will suggest. A therapist isn’t the only person you should talk to about what’s going on. It’s important to have friends, family members or mentors you trust to hear you out without judging. And mental health problems aren’t quite as stigmatized as they used to be. You might find that other people are interested in these conversations because they’re working on their mental health too. If you’re new to talking about your mental health, it might help to come to our virtual online support group, even if you just want to listen.

What to do if you have mild depression symptoms

While mild depression is noticeable to you, it often goes undiagnosed because people dismiss their symptoms. Your doctor or campus counseling center should be able to help you with an assessment. But you don’t need a diagnosis to be able to see a therapist. It might help you to make a list of the people and resources who might be able to help you and start with the ones that seem most accessible.

Use the suggestions in the previous section and identify someone you can talk to about your depression symptoms. Let your professors know so they can connect you with the right resources and help you keep up with coursework. Try to care for yourself like you would if a friend were going through a rough time.

Did this article bring up any questions about finding mental health care? If you’re a UC student, you can enroll in our Lightfully U program for free. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any other questions.

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