*Names changed to protect identities of interviewees
University. It’s one of the most fun times in a person’s life. A time where you’ll find yourself, find direction and find lifelong friends, all while having a truly memorable experience and earning a much sought-after degree.
Obviously, it’s not all the fun times it’s sold as. Somewhere between the lectures and intensive library sessions, the alcoholic afternoons and the hazy nights, thousands upon thousands of university students suffer from depression. The number of students seeking support for this has risen ridiculously in recent years.
But still the troubles and tribulations are overcome and, year after year, thousands of students graduate. It’s a joyous occasion, with the prospect of being able to be exactly what you want to be in the world. ‘The world is your oyster’, and other optimistic fair-weather statements.
Once the university bubble has burst and you’re out in the real working world, it’s a scary situation. You’ve gone from having a clear goal in a place bursting with opportunity, with a steady support network of friends in close proximity, to (generally) having none of that. And as a result, post-university depression frequently sets in.
I graduated in Summer 2014. It was a beautiful event and, as I sat (for, as still, the last time) surrounded by the friends who had struggled alongside me for the past three years, it felt like the fitting end to my university journey. The perfect end to that chapter of my life where I became - though I’m sure many would argue - an adult.
I had no idea what was next for me, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. For most of my time at university, it was always told as being as clean cut as the next step being full-time employment. It’s not until after graduation that it became very clear it’s nowhere near as black and white as that.
When the summer was out the way, I found myself getting gradually more depressed and feeling more isolated. Admittedly, living in the city where I once went to university probably did me no favours. Walks to clear my head became expeditions through a ghost town, lacking the spirited life I’d loved in previous years and haunted by rose-tinted sentimental memories. It wasn’t until after months of feeling this way that I learned I wasn’t the only one - other people I had graduated with were feeling more or less the same way.
Nobody ever says “after you graduate, you may experience post-university depression”.
Jake Barnes also graduated in summer 2014. Since graduating, he’s been looking for work consistently and has suffered from Post-University Depression for much of that time.
“I think it set in about three months or so after I graduated. Right after graduating I was still in the sort of dreamy hangover phase. It takes time for reality to properly get through, and that’s when it just hits with no warning.
“Mostly it was just being alone. I moved back to my parent’s house, which feels like a step backwards after three years of being independent, and the place just felt different. I’d grown away from my school friends, and everyone I met at uni had gone back to their own worlds. It was like being an awkward, antisocial 13-year-old again… but with debt problems!”
But it’s not just the loneliness and hanging debt that contributes to this Post-University Depression. “Leaving uni to be on the job market for the first proper time is always going to be a stressful anyway. But with things as they are, everybody is struggling and the jobs are so much harder to get. I don’t think that helps either.”
It’s not exclusive to those unemployed after University, either. Ross Adams, who graduated in 2013, found employment within two months of graduation. His post-university depression set in shortly afterwards, and almost caused him to leave his job.
“I think some of it is a culture shock,” he tells me. “You spend at least three years not in a strict full-day working life, so when you get into one it can shake you up a bit. But it’s just the general change that did it for me. Everything was so different, I started thinking a lot about those uni days and it eats away at you.”
So why had this Post-University Depression never been mentioned to us before? This general apathy towards the future; this lethargic lamenting on the life now gone; this empty isolation that consumes; surely somebody could have warned graduates about this?
Sadly, not. Post-University Depression seems to be something of a dirty phrase that nobody likes to mention, let alone address. This is evident in the fact that no official statistics exist on how many graduates suffer from depression shortly after university.
If you’re suffering from depression of any kind, the first thing you should do is talk about it (to friends, family, professionals, partners) and then seek help for it. But is it right that something so common is left simply up to a reactionary measure? We’re constantly reminded that “one in four of us will experience some type of mental health problem each year”, but nobody ever says “after you graduate, you may experience post-university depression”.
This needs to change. And Universities and Student Unions should be held accountable for the wellbeing of their graduates. After all, they’d be the first to champion them and lay their claim if the graduate is successful. They need to offer more in the way of support to their graduates.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that universities lay out special graduate care programmes. There’s already enough of a strain on universities to support their current students through the lows they may experience. But they could definitely provide some form of signposting to the services available to support graduates. Even just warning their final year students that post-university depression exists can help prepare them for the possibility. Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t.
“I definitely feel like I would have coped better initially if I had some idea it was coming,” says Laura Foster, a 2010 graduate. “Universities should offer some advice, even if it’s just little handout leaflets, that mention it and warn graduates. Especially if people already have a history of depression. Knowledge is crucial.”
It’s remarkable that Post-University Depression is skirted around so much that even a Google search brings back limited results. And until this begins to change, it’s going to continue blind siding graduates.
If you have been affected by these issues and wish to get some support, talk to your GP or contact Samaritans at 08457 90 90 90 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.