From education to employment

We need to talk about post-graduate depression

As a student, university was a great experience. I met lots of likeminded people, studied interesting subjects, and – at the end of it – I left with a degree and a sense of earned achievement.

Unfortunately, problems started to occur a few months after my graduation. I had a piece of paper telling me I was special but, following a series of failed job interviews, I certainly didn’t feel like it. I was thousands of pounds in debt, living with my parents, and feeling isolated.

I was suffering from post-gradation depression (or ‘graduate blues’) and this continued for almost a year until I finally managed to gain employment in a field related to my degree.

Post-graduate depression is an issue very rarely spoken of but that needs addressing. Every year, numerous adults leave university and fall into the same patterns, feeling alone in their lives, and struggling with job interview rejection.

It’s time to do something about it.

How common is post-graduate depression?

One of the largest challenges surrounding investigating post-graduate depression is the absence of official statistics. Although we know that around 25% of students will suffer from depression during university, few studies look into the impact on student mental wellbeing after graduation. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a survey conducted by the Independent demonstrated that almost 90% of students and recent graduates feel this matter should get more exposure.

Perhaps the most authoritative survey on post-graduate depression has been conducted by Student Minds working alongside City Mental Health Alliance. In this research, the organisations identified that almost half of recent graduates believed their mental wellbeing had declined following university. Furthermore, 40% described themselves as feeling ‘socially isolated’ and 44% believed their friends were more successful than they were.

Arguably, social media has contributed to graduates increasingly feeling depressed after leaving university. After all, with friends and contacts posting their achievements – sometimes on a daily basis – this comparison can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing.

Preparing students for post-graduate depression

In 2017, Student Minds published a report stating that universities could do more to prepare individuals for the transition out of academia – stating the move can be a “significant challenge” on a student’s mental health.

Feeling depressed or lost after university isn’t an uncommon feeling – but this should not devalue what that person is going through. The transition to the world of work, or even just job hunting, is not an easy one for someone who has been in university for at least three years.

Primarily, the way out of post-graduate depression is to talk about it – and to realise you aren’t alone in adjusting to a new way of life:

“My experience of post-graduation was pretty rough. I didn’t have a job lined up, so was going through the (miserable) rollercoaster of job applications, interviews, and rejections.”, stated one anonymous sufferer while speaking to Fortis Student Living.

“It turns out, plenty of my friends were feeling the same way; even the ones who seemed to have their career and post-uni life sorted. If I’d actually talked to them about it, I could have extinguished the sense of isolation I’d developed. If I’d talked to my family, they would have been able to understand and support me better.

“Looking back, I’m convinced that if I’d talked to someone – anyone – I would have made it through one of the most challenging times of my life much more quickly.”

As well as this, those experiencing graduation blues may wish to consider avoiding social media or comparing themselves to their peers. Furthermore, they could take positive steps to make their CV more desirable or stay busy through voluntary work.

However, graduates should not have to shoulder this burden alone. Universities can cushion the transition into post-academia by reassuring individuals that not acquiring a job straight after graduation is perfectly normal. In fact, it might take months to acquire something desirable.

Although this might run contrary to the marketing messages of many institutions, it is a more realistic one.

What can I do?

Once a student has finished their tuition, many academics would feel their relationship is over. However, teachers should consider occasionally getting in touch with their graduates. Sometimes, you really just need someone to talk to.

Furthermore, those struggling should consider seeking trained help. I would personally recommend the services provided by mental health charity Mind.

My experience with post-graduate depression lasted almost a year. I graduated in journalism but eventually was offered a position in digital marketing. Years and a few different agencies later, I have firmly left those days behind.

Therefore, it’s comforting to realise that these negative feelings don’t last forever – but any help can make the situation much more manageable.

Tom Chapman

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