graduating is hard enough, but what comes after may be harder

Malcolm X referred to education as the "passport to the future." No matter how you choose to phrase it, education is an important, if not an essential, part of our professional and personal growth. There is no better proof of this than in the significant money, time, and effort invested into our education and the education of our loved ones. According to a 2020 report, the average United States citizen spends about 15 percent of their life in school. Our educational journey encompasses most of our youth and early adulthood. In this journey, we learn some of our greatest lessons. 

This chapter comes to a close, for many, during our college graduation. Few feelings are as sweet as walking across the stage and being able to officially call ourselves a college graduate. This special moment represents a journey of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice. When closing this chapter of our lives, some have a clear perspective of what comes next. The majority, however, do not have the same concise outlook.  Ongoing research finds that 67% of college graduates do not have a job lined up after graduation. This group of people may feel a constant 'tug of war' between trying to celebrate the achievement of graduating college versus navigating the intense stress and anxiety that can come with job hunting. 

After closing such a significant chapter of one's life, it is normal to develop thoughts such as doubt and nervousness over what is to come. The emotions that fester from this experience can lead to "post-college depression." 

Being a student has become an integral part of our identities, and upon graduation this identity is instantaneously changed. According to Dr. Matt Glowiak of Southern New Hampshire University, mental health concerns can become a factor in our life when we face obstacles that threaten our identity. The correlation between depression and college graduation molds together, leading to questions like "Who am I?" and "Will I be successful?" The noise these questions create in our minds leads to intense feelings of regret about past decisions we've made and doubt for the future.

I know the feeling of post-college depression very well. After graduating with both my bachelor's degree and master's degree, one similarity arose, and that was the seemingly uncontrollable feeling of depression. Applying for jobs after graduation can feel like throwing hundreds of darts at a dartboard, with nothing coming close to the bullseye. The feeling of rejection from a job can easily transition into inadequacy. We then get stuck in a vacuum of our shortcomings and zoom in on our faults. When in the headspace of post-college depression, seemingly everyone has their life nicely put together…except for us. 

There is no easy fix to post-college depression, but developing trust and compassion for ourselves helps. It is important to focus on the strengths that led us to become a college graduate in the first place and trust that those same skills will guide us into the next journey.  Compassion is also crucial. The accomplishment of earning a college education is no easy task. Garnering compassion will give us permission to go on a well-deserved 'victory lap,' leaving no room for shame in taking the time we need to start this new chapter of our life.

Post-college depression differs from other types of depression in that it is directly attached to a specific life event that asserts certain feelings and emotions within us. However, similar to other types of depression, creating a vision can help us cope. By creating a vision of our desired future, we focus on the positive aspect of what college graduation is and should be, an ending of one chapter and beginning of another. 

Another strategy when living with post-college depression is to create new habits that match our new life. While in college, we develop dozens of habits that fit the lifestyle of a college student. By graduating, we begin to replace those habits. Using this void of time to try activities that fit your new vision, like traveling, reading or writing will keep you busy and away from the negative headspace where post-college depression lives.

Lastly, it is important to get support. Progressing through different chapters of life is challenging and there should be no shame in looking for support.  Talking to others about what we are experiencing, whether that be a therapist or mentor, can help us develop skills to better handle post-college depression.

The reality is that post-college depression is not talked about nearly enough. When I first experienced depression after graduating college, I did not expect to enter as deep of a state of it as I did. Clinging to hope was challenging at times, but by incorporating aspects into my life that kept me thinking about the future, I reminded myself that I had a lot to look forward to.

[This article is featured as an opinion piece; it does not represent the views or opinions of tlk magazine or its affiliates]. 

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