The Problems with Depression in College Students

Depression in college students creates many problems. Discover why and learn the depression risks in college students and where to find help.

Depression in college students can cause unique problems. Depression negatively impacts anyone who lives with it, of course, by limiting and reducing quality of life, but this illness affects college students distinctively. If you’re in college, you are experiencing life changes and challenges that, while often exciting and positive, can be highly stressful. Problems with depression in college students are real but can be helped.

College is a time for self-discovery and learning. It is an active preparation for a chosen career and life path. As such, it’s rigorous. College success depends on an ability to set goals, create and follow an action plan to achieve them, a high level of interest and motivation to pursue those passions, and the energy to do it. College also involves balance between academic rigor and fun. It’s about meeting people, and yourself in the process. When someone experiences depression during this time of life, it can be problematic and possibly detrimental to goals, hopes, and dreams.

Risks and Problems with Depression in College Students

Depression involves (but is not limited to) symptoms such as:

  • Feeling sad, empty, and/or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities and goals once enjoyed and embraced
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and focusing

Depression can severely disrupt lives. In college students, depression makes the experience of college a struggle seemingly impossible to overcome. Problems thinking and concentrating make it difficult to learn and interfere in the ability to complete the large amount of work required outside of class. Even knowing where to start can be hard, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed and fall behind. Catching up becomes a Sisyphean challenge that threatens to crush someone with depression. This can lead to failure, either of a class or of college itself. Then, when one feels their dreams slipping out of reach, depression can intensify.

Depression increases someone’s risk of substance use and other risky behaviors. On some college campuses, opportunities for drinking, binge drinking, drug use, and risky sexual behavior are readily available. Easy access coupled with an illness that puts one at risk for these harmful behaviors can cause troubles.

Another problem with depression in college students is the risk of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people age 18-25, and over eight percent of young adults in this age group report serious suicidal ideation (Kerr, 2017). While these numbers reflect the age group as a whole rather than exclusively those attending college, college-age students are in a group that has a high suicide risk. Therefore, depression in college students must be taken seriously. (An important note: If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, please call or chat online with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right away (1-800-273-8255).)

What is it that makes depression in college students such a problem? As it turns out, plenty.

Why College Students Can Be Prone to Depression

Numerous factors unique to this developmental stage make depression a problem for college students. Among them:

  • Being away from home for the first time means the support system they’ve had for their entire life is not readily available
  • Adjusting to independence, self-regulation, and new responsibility can be a “sink or swim” situation with a sinking feeling linked to depression
  • College is rigorous and requires students to figure out, often on their own, how to study and perform at this level
  • Navigating student life and forming new friendships can be daunting
  • Dealing with roommates is tough for many students
  • It can be awkward and difficult to know how to relate to old friends left behind
  • Sleep deprivation is rampant on campuses, which contributes to or exacerbates depression
  • College students frequently have poor eating habits, a factor in depression
  • Chronic stress is common in college students and contributes to depression

College involves an entirely new lifestyle with its own unique culture and novel experiences. Some of these changes are thrilling and positive, while others are overwhelming and negative. Positive or negative, all involve adjustment. Any type of adjustment can contribute to anxiety and depression, making the college years a time of depression risk.

Helping Yourself Through Depression in College

Another problem with depression in college is that the new people in your life don’t know you well enough yet to know if you aren’t yourself. Signs and symptoms of depression can be missed. Developing a support network is crucial.

Most colleges have campus health centers that include mental health services like counseling and support groups. Further organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) often have centers on campuses that provide support and help.

Staying in touch with your traditional supports is helpful, too. Be open with parents and/or former teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, and other people who have been in your life can help support you so you can beat depression and thrive in college.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 30). The Problems with Depression in College Students, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 22 from

Last Updated: January 9, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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