Surviving Depression at University

Depression is a serious and recognised mental health condition, relatively common on university campuses, as well as society in general. As well as speaking you your mental health counsellor or GP, there are strategies you can use to tackle your depression, finding a positive way forward. The steps towards managing your depression can seem extremely difficult, but they’re the quickest and easiest ways to complement your medication or counselling.

Self help

Everyone is affected by depression differently, so if you’ll need to figure out your own self help strategy to work alongside any medication or counselling you’re receiving. The best way to start is to ask yourself “what is the smallest change I can make that will make the most difference?”

Imagination techniques

Another strategy is to imagine your life depression-free. Using the following exercises will help you:

  • Imagine your life and what it would look like on a day-to-day basis
  • It may be painful, but write this down in lots of detail
  • Figure out the smallest and easiest step you could make to go in this direction
  • Try to move away from an ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset, it’s ok to only know the first step

When you’re battling depression, it may not be possible to get rid of every aspect making you feel this way, as genetic tendencies to low serotonin levels and other biological factors often play a part in depression.

Breaking your cycle of isolation

Your depression thrives when you’re lonely and socially isolated. Reaching out to your loved ones and forming a solid support network is a powerful way to fight depression.

Try and be with others

Depressed thinking and the spiral of depressed behaviour can easily lead you to becoming increasingly socially withdrawn and isolated.

It can be extremely difficult, but try your best not to fall into this spiral, by making sure you spend time with other people. As much as possible, keep this social contact as relaxed and low key as possible.

Make as much out of opportunities for social contact as you can. Try hanging out in the kitchen with your flatmates, go to the SU bar or go to study groups after your lectures. You may not feel like doing this, but you should try making yourself go.

Tell people how you’re feeling

Having someone around to keep you company and just listen to you is a lot easier than being isolated. If there are people who know how you’re feeling, you won’t have to keep up a false image of everything being okay. This in itself can help a lot. Good people to talk to include:

  • Family- family members are good people to talk to as parents are always looking to have more contact.
  • Friends- Whilst you’ll need to be realistic in their power to change things, they can offer a lot of welcome support.
  • Samaritans or your campus Nightline- These groups are completely confidential and anonymous. Members are trained to actively listen to you for as long as you need them to.
  • Tutors- The vast majority of academic departments have systems for academic tutors to offer support.
  • Professionals- If you are feeling low or have other symptoms of depression, counsellors, GPs and mental health services will be able to offer you qualified advice, as well as prescribe therapy and any suitable medication.

If you have thought of self-harm or suicide, it’s essential that you seek professional, medical advice from your doctor or a counsellor immediately.

 

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Taking care of yourself throughout depression

When you’re depressed, it’s common to experience lethargy and neglect your basic self-caring tasks. An important step in managing your depression is to consciously make the effort to take care of yourself.

  • Make a checklist of basic self-care tasks- a basic checklist of things you need to do every day, such as getting up; showering, getting dressed and having breakfast will help you get out of bed. Remember that in the face of depressed lethargy, these are notable achievements in themselves.
  • Look after your personal space- A good distraction technique is to slowly but surely tidy your room. Make it a comfortable, welcoming space with b right warm colours. Photos of family and friends will remind you of your support network, and include some photos of yourself having a good time.
  • Get back into nature- You can find great ‘inner peace’ by immersing yourself in the natural world. Whether it’s watching a sunrise, listening to a babbling brook or lying in the grass, you will often feel a lot better for it. Even canal paths and urban parks can make all the difference.

Find a new focus

Any time you spend focusing on something or someone else, you have an amount of time where you can seek refuge from your depression.

Purposeful distraction is a good way to resist negative introspection that often accompanies depression, and you can use anything from the simplest of distraction techniques to more meaningful ways to spend your time and energy.

The key to purposeful distraction is to do a task without feeling motivated to do it and without the expectation to actively enjoy it. It should be something to simply fill your mind. Purposeful distractions can be anything, such as:

  • Watching an entertaining TV programme
  • Going shopping
  • Playing a video game
  • Cooking a meal

You may want to channel your depression and feelings into an art project, such as music, writing or painting. Don’t ask yourself whether or not it’s ‘good’. just focus on the freedom or creation as a form of therapy.

 

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