I Think I’m Depressed: How Can College Students Know for Sure?
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Going to college can bring out a lot of conflicting emotions. Academic pressures, social challenges and increased independence can significantly impact a person’s mental health. For some individuals, the stress of college life can trigger or exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression.

There may be a tough transition period you’ll need to get through before you really feel like you belong. So how do you know if what you’re feeling is sadness that will eventually pass — or if you should start seeking treatment for depression?

The first thing to remember is that you don’t need a depression diagnosis or any mental health condition to talk with a therapist. If you are concerned about depression, there are some red flags for college students to look out for.

If you’re having any thoughts about self-harm, dying or suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

This article will help you assess your own symptoms and start to gather your thoughts so you can make decisions about getting treatment.

Can I diagnose myself with depression?

While you may be able to identify some specific depression symptoms you’re having, only a health care professional, such as a physician, psychotherapist or psychiatrist, can diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD) and other types of depression. It’s important to talk with a doctor or therapist for a few different reasons. First, there may be other issues that they’ll need to rule out. Second, a doctor will be able to assess you for depression so you’ll get a clear diagnosis. Third, they’ll advise you on the next steps to take, and they should follow up with you later to see how you’re doing. 

If you ever develop more severe depression symptoms, it will be helpful to know how long you’ve been struggling with depression. Having an official diagnosis on record with your doctor can make it easier to determine how long it’s been a problem for you, and if you ever need medication, you’ll definitely need an official diagnosis. 

What’s the difference between depression or sadness?

Sadness can be a depression symptom, but in cases of depression, feelings of sadness or being down don’t change or go away. 

Sadness is a normal and temporary emotional response to life events perceived as negative, disappointing or distressing. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent and debilitating feelings of sadness and other physical, psychological and emotional symptoms.

There are some other common symptoms that can increase the likelihood of a depression diagnosis. If you’ve noticed your sadness or low mood is affecting different areas of your life, like your studies, extracurriculars, your job or time with friends, try journaling about the changes you’ve noticed. Depression can make it difficult to enjoy things, socialize or feel good about yourself. If you’re avoiding certain activities or noticing changes in your sleep routine or appetite, there’s a chance you could be depressed.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent sadness 

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Sleeping too much or not enough

  • Low energy

  • Social isolation

  • Changes in appetite

  • Aches and pains

  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy

How do I get a depression diagnosis?

Even though self-assessment and symptom monitoring can be helpful, the safest way to determine whether you have depression is to talk to a qualified professional, such as a medical doctor, psychiatrist or therapist.

Getting a depression diagnosis depends on the health care resources you have access to. If you’re able to see your regular doctor, they can give you an assessment. Otherwise, check your school’s website to see if there are therapists or physicians you can see on campus. 

The diagnosis process with a health care professional can include a:

  • Physical examination
  • Diagnostic interview
  • Mental health assessment
  • Diagnostic criteria comparison

I think I’m depressed. What’s next?

You have some options when it comes to seeking a diagnosis and treatment for depression. You may be able to see an on-campus therapist without a referral. But there are some particular benefits of seeing a depression specialist. It depends on what you’re comfortable with and how severe you think your depression symptoms are. 

Online therapy may save you some time compared to in-person appointments. You can also come to our online support group on Thursdays. Talking about your feelings with others who are struggling can go a long way to show you you’re not alone. If you go to UC, check out these virtual services you can access through Lyra Health. 

Having a strong personal support system is just as important as getting help from a professional. Your friends can be there when you can’t reach your therapist, and they can offer different kinds of help. Think of a couple of friends you can talk to and let them know you’re feeling down. They may have had similar experiences, or they might be able to help you navigate campus resources. A listening ear might help you feel better until you can talk with a professional.

Here’s a summary of different ideas you can try:

  • Take a self-assessment — Find a reputable online assessment to collect your thoughts and notice symptoms you might not be aware of. This can help you prepare for a conversation with your doctor.

  • Seek out campus mental health resources — Find out if there are therapists or support groups available on campus.

  • Talk to your doctor — Share your concerns and ask for an assessment.

  • Confide in a close friend — Identify a friend or two who will listen to your thoughts without judgment.

  • Find a support group — See if there are groups on campus or online where you can talk about mental health with other students who are also struggling.

  • Enroll in a virtual IOP — Virtual Intensive Outpatient Programs (vIOPs) are a bit more in depth than outpatient therapy. You’ll work with a therapist, attend group sessions and learn skills to help you manage your depression.

Going to college involves a lot of changes in different areas of your life. It’s common to experience mental health symptoms for the first time in college. It’s not easy to deal with, but you’re doing the right thing by looking for the appropriate resources.

Lightfully U is our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) for college and university students. It includes several three- to five-hour sessions of evidence-based treatment each week. You can plan sessions around your class schedule, and you’ll meet other students who are also working on their mental health. 

Learn more about Lightfully U or send us a message if you have any questions.

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