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7 Common Causes of Depression in Students

Student Mindfulness for Depression

University students are likely to experience lots of highs and lows during their time at uni. This is only natural as it’s a time with lots of big changes happening in your life, and so it can be quite an unsettling time, especially if you’re far away from home and don’t have your family close by. Dipping into a state of depression can happen for several reasons, but as long as you keep an eye on your mental health on an ongoing basis, you can help prevent this from happening. So that you can be well prepared, here are 7 common causes of depression in students. 

Stress

A little bit of stress is probably something you should expect to experience as a student at university. You will have deadlines, exams, presentations and many social interactions inside and outside of university. While stress can be incredibly useful at times as a driver for getting things done, prolonged periods of stress can be damaging to both our physical and mental health. 

When you are in a stressed state, your body releases stress hormones and if these are released persistently, this is called chronic stress. It’s chronic stress that does damage as it can alter your brain chemistry, allowing you to dip into a depressed state. So, remember that no matter what university life throws at you, your mental and physical health are the most important things. If you feel like you’re putting your health at risk with the amount of stress you are experiencing, try to dedicate some time out for yourself and speak to someone at university about how you can take things a little slower. 

Trauma

Plenty of evidence shows that going through a traumatic experience can lead to depression. This could be an experience in your childhood, a series of events in your childhood, or something that’s happened to you more recently. 

Even leaving home for the first time to start university can be quite a traumatic experience for some students, so just be aware of this and any other big changes that are happening in your life. Remember that while it might seem like it will be a long time before you can get home to see family and friends again, terms go quickly, and your whole course will go by before you know it.  

Grief or loss

If you happen to have lost someone close to you recently, you might be experiencing grief. The symptoms of grief are very similar to how you might feel if you are depressed – things like loss of appetite, abnormal sleeping patterns etc. But, this stage of the grieving process, while sometimes a lengthy one, will eventually pass. Experiencing grief can then sometimes later lead to depression. Grief will be more likely to lead to depression if you’re already prone to depression or have experienced it before. And you might be more prone to depression if you experienced grief early on in your life. Remember that grief is a natural response to a loss you might have experienced, but if the symptoms carry on in the longer term, this should be dealt with, like depression, in the appropriate way. 

Losing someone doesn’t necessarily mean grieving the end of life; it can also be an estranged family member or the end of a relationship or even a friendship. If you’ve experienced heartbreak, this can have similar symptoms as grief and needs to be taken seriously by the people around you. 

Loneliness

Being at university might be one of the most social times of your life, meeting hundreds if not thousands of new people over your degree. You are possibly living with a whole group of people and spending your seminars or lectures with your peers. But, often, the times when we are surrounded by people can also be the loneliest of times if we are not feeling connected with those around us. If you have come to the UK from another country, or even come to London from somewhere else in the UK, you might be noticing the cultural differences between yourself and those around you and feel a little distant. So, if you’re feeling isolated or like you aren’t part of the group, try to remember that while it might seem that everyone is making friends and having a great time, we all are in the habit of putting our best selves forward. Most people aren’t openly honest about how they feel until you get to know each other properly. Take your time, to get to know just a couple of like-minded people and you will find that friendships can begin to flourish naturally from there.

 

If you’re feeling a little homesick, this is only natural. You might be in a brand-new city or even a new country and miss the comforts from back home. Missing family and friends from home is normal, and generally, it just takes a little time to pass. Yes It can naturally affect your mental health and make depression more likely, so just be aware that your time at university is relatively quick, and while you might be missing home right now, you will soon settle into your new life and these feelings will fade. And before you know it, you will be seeing your family again and be feeling much more positive about life at university. 

Seasonal changes

Yes, the weather can affect your mental health. More than just ‘feeling grey’, SAD which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a genuine conditional whereby the lack of vitamin D can lead to a more long-term low mood. For people who live with this condition, depressive episodes are more likely to occur over the months when we have shorter and darker days. To help prevent this, it’s a good idea to get out into some natural sunlight every day, especially on those shorter days when sunlight is sparse. Getting a (safe) amount of sunlight into your eyes and onto your face also helps with regulating your natural circadian rhythm, which helps you get a good night’s sleep. 

Your genes and age can also play a part

There is some evidence to show that people who’ve had close relatives with depression are more likely to suffer from it themselves. These could be grandparents, parents or siblings. But, depression is an incredibly common mental health condition so if you have family members who are struggling with it, don’t be concerned about your future mental health because of this as genetics are not a guarantee that you will have your own challenges.  

As well as your genes, your age can also play a part in how likely you are to become depressed. It’s not uncommon for depression to rear its head during adolescence, and figures show that young adults (those aged 18-25) are experiencing higher rates of depression than ever before. This could come down to several things, but the pressures of study will probably be an important factor. So, it’s a good idea to recognise your point in life and remember that you will be in a more settled position in just a couple of years. 

If you’re feeling a little homesick, this is only natural. You might be in a brand-new city or even a new country and miss the comforts from back home. Missing family and friends from home is normal, and generally, it just takes a little time to pass. Yes It can naturally affect your mental health and make depression more likely, so just be aware that your time at university is relatively quick, and while you might be missing home right now, you will soon settle into your new life and these feelings will fade. And before you know it, you will be seeing your family again and be feeling much more positive about life at university. 

Chemical imbalance

Finally, many people with depression may simply have an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. This may have been caused by experiences of trauma earlier on in life, or it could be that a series of difficult or challenging events have happened suddenly, which have affected the balance.  

 

Whatever the cause of depression, there are plenty of things you can do to help, whether that’s for yourself or a friend or family member. The first step however, is being aware of ones mental health and understanding that events or experiences like those listed above sometimes need to be dealt with head on but also sensitively. Talk therapies, art therapy and practical tools like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are all useful ways one can be proactive in taking care of their mental health.

 

UWS offer a CBT service called Silvercloud, a free service for all UWS students. It offers a host of online resources focussing on CBT to help you deal with stress, anxiety and working on your self-esteem – all of which can help stave off depression in the short and long term.

 

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