Dealing With Post-College Depression

Isaiah McCall

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When you finally grab that diploma, you’re on top of the world. The underclassmen look up to you, your family couldn’t be prouder and society has dictated that this, this is the moment that will forever change your life. If you believe that last part, you’re in for a rude awakening.

As soon as you step off that stage you’re back to the bottom of the totem pole. Little work experience — besides maybe a cashier’s position at your local supermarket — competing for some of the best jobs in the world and failure isn’t as simple as retaking a class.

Failure could mean losing your job, not being able to pay the bills and worst of all, moving back home.

Post-college depression among millennials and Generation Z is real. The world has never been an easy place to navigate, but with record-setting student-loan debt and increased uncertainty about the future, recent grads need to prepare more than ever for the harsh reality of life.

The Hole And How Not To Fall In

“It’s so easy to fall into a hole. College does nothing to prepare you for a 9–5, real-working life,” said 25-year-old and Ramapo college alumnus Giancarlo Sepulveda. “You’re thrown into a world of paying bills, looking for jobs and you gain a newfound respect for adults who have been doing this for years.”

The American Psychological Association reports on average, millennials and young adults experience the highest level of stress than any other generation. And that stress can be attributed to three primary factors: debt, lack of direction — and surprising no one — our obsessions with our smartphones.

In 2019, more than 4 in 5 adults in the U.S. report that they constantly check their email, texts, and social media accounts, according to a recent APA report.

“How could you not?” Sepulveda argued. “Job searching is so overwhelming in the internet age, and there’s really no way to go about it without being locked into technology.”

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Technology is essential for success in 2020, but it’s important to manage your time with it.

Satya Byock, a psychotherapist based in Portland, who primarily treats millennials, believes it’s inevitable that this age group will experience a long period of confusion and uncertainty. But constantly seeking validation from our electronic devices is only prolonging that stress.

“Having external validation as our only validation is damaging. So I think it’s critical for all individuals, in particular, young adults to have time for introspection and self-love and self-knowledge,” said Byock.

Seeking external validation opens us up to comparing our lives to others and allows us to think that everyone else has everything figured out. When often these people you’re comparing yourself to — especially your slightly more successful friends — may be fighting the same struggle.

Limit your time on social media and cut-out the distractions that are holding you back from who you want to be. Above all stop comparing yourself to anyone besides yourself.

Acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson put it best in his best-seller, “12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos.”

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”

Tackling Student Debt

Debt and depression are hard to separate from one another. Student loans pressure graduates to find a way to make money before the boulder of debt flattens them.

According to Student Loan Hero, among the Class of 2020, “69 percent of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt.”

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Upon polling 20 seniors preparing to graduate from Ramapo College last May, 17-of-the-20 attributed college debt as one of the primary reasons they don’t look forward to a post-college world.

If you applied this small sample size to the rest of the 2019 graduating class, you’d find that behind those smiles and cheers at the commencement ceremony are feelings of existential dread.

Among the 20 students polled, the three that listed having no anxiety over college debt did still list anxiety issues due to: “Having no job lined up,” or “having a lack of real direction or focus” when it came to post-college life.

Every student polled felt at least some sort of additional stress or anxiety when confronting post-college life.

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John Paone, 22, a Rutgers University alumnus found himself frustrated from lack of work and began to reflect if his student debt was worth the time and energy it took him.

“I was applying to several jobs a day, going to multiple interviews a week and networking as much as I possibly could, but never found that break I was looking for,” said Paone.

“I thought ‘Is this even what I want to do? And did I just waste four years of my life and a ton of money for nothing? It makes you wonder why most adults don’t talk about ‘serious alternatives’ to college with their children.”

Paone like many post-grads was fighting for a basic living and eventually lost. He moved back home with his parents this past month due to financial struggles.

Any kind of debt feels as though we’re in this constant state of drowning. Many today compare college debt to indentured servitude — you earn a degree at the cost of paying it off for the next 20-years of your life.

You may not be able to completely eliminate the negativity of being in debt until it’s paid off and out of mind. But don’t let debt consume your happiness. If you continue to fight and outwork everyone around you, the money will come, no matter the industry.

It’s Not About The Degree, It’s About What You Put Into Your College Experience

The narrative sold to millennials and Gen Z, that college is this “holy key,” that will open any door in life — is played out. Infinite amounts of resources are a click-or-two away thanks to the internet, for little-to-no cost.

Whether that’s inspirational and informative podcasts, jocular blog-articles, or online courses taught by real professionals.

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But if college is still on your mind — or you’ve stubbornly doubled down in what psychologists call the “sunk-cost fallacy” — don’t let post-college depression get you down. College is not about the degree, it’s about what you put into the experience.

My Freshman and Sophomore years were a waste. I slacked off, rolled out of bed five minutes before class, and scoffed at people who studied. Then my last two years it finally clicked and I started getting involved. I started my own club, ran for SGA (and lost), joined the college newspaper, the radio club, and intramural sports — just to name a few.

Put yourself into new situations, an experiment in college, learn about yourself through these experiences. Above all have fun and get out of your shell so that when the day of graduation comes, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

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USA Today Reporter and Ultramarathoner. I write about Cryptocurrency, Fitness Hacks, and Greek Philosophy. Also a diehard Trekkie | mccallisaiah@gmail.com

Jersey City, NJ
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