The reality of Post-University Depression
Three years of university later and you’re left with debt, anxiety, and a lot of worry about the future. So why is Post-University Depression not more widely discussed?
Henna is a 24-year-old residential support worker. She graduated from the University of Northampton in 2016. After what she called, “the best time of [her] life” at university, she left the UK to do a placement abroad for two months, but then what? “I remember applying for jobs daily, sending about 5/6 detailed applications, cover letters, etc. But after a month I never got a response, and if I did it was a rejection of not having enough experience.” Henna continued to apply for jobs, and continued to get rejected, which began to take a toll on her mental health. “I started to doubt all of my life choices to date. Wrong university, wrong course, wrong placement abroad, shouldn’t have quit the warehouse. I just stopped applying. I stopped talking or even communicating with all of my university friends.”
What Henna was experiencing was Post-University Depression. A largely undocumented mental health illness. In fact, when researching the topic, I found only one study that had exclusively conducted research with graduates on their mental wellbeing, and that was courtesy of the City Mental Health Alliance. Their study found that out of 300 students that they interviewed, 49% of them admitted that their mental wellbeing declined after leaving university. My own study of 40 students across the UK concluded that 97.5% of them had suffered from post-university depression, and, more shockingly, 40% said that they were still trying to recover from it. So, what is the cause of post-university depression?
I’m afraid to say that there is no definite explanation. Post-university depression can be caused by many things, but after speaking to a handful of under-graduates the most common causes seem to be money, stress, and an increase in pressure. Alan Percy, head of counseling at the University of Oxford, wrote on the NHS student mental health page that “a lot of difficulties are not caused by medical problems, but by normal life problems, such as family, relationships, and anxiety about their [students] work.” This page is dedicated more heavily towards students currently at university rather than under-graduates, however, it is not hard to see how the issues he mentions can intensify after leaving university. The average student has a debt of £50,000 to pay off, a career to secure, and the pressure that comes from family and friends constantly asking if they have found a job yet. It’s no wonder that they will feel an immense amount of pressure.
Kayleigh Russell graduated from University in 2016. Similarly to Henna, being rejected for jobs contributed to low self-esteem which, in turn, caused her to question her choice to go to university in the first place. This was part of what started Kayleigh’s post-university depression.
The NHS Student Mental Health page outlines some of the key symptoms of depression as “feeling low, feeling more anxious and agitated than usual, losing interest in life, and losing motivation.” Out of the 40 under-graduates that I surveyed a loss of motivation was the highest symptom of Post-University Depression that graduates felt, with 87.5% of people saying that they suffered from it. This was closely followed by anxiety, which 77.5% of post-graduates felt, and a loss of interest in life, which affected 65% of respondents.
Not working in my desired field has reinforced anxious and depressive thoughts such as feeling like a failure, [feeling] inadequate, and [feeling like] an imposter.Christina
Christina felt all of these symptoms in full force after graduating from the University of Salford, and still feels them to this day. “Not working in my desired field has reinforced anxious and depressive thoughts such as feeling like a failure, [feeling] inadequate, and [feeling like] an imposter.” It wasn’t until January 2019 that she realised why she was feeling this way. “the reason I hadn’t fully settled was that I haven’t found my dream job/destination yet. I’ll be honest – it sent me right back to square one with my mental health, but I took steps to alleviate negative feelings such as taking a social media detox, removing unwanted connections, and working towards my goals, no matter how long they might take to achieve.”
The City Mental Health Alliance survey on post-graduate mental health found that 44% of undergraduates felt that their friends were doing better than them, and a further 40% felt socially isolated. Social media can have a massive impact on mental health in general, however, after graduating and perhaps not landing the dream job, there is no question that seeing your friends being successful across social media will make you feel low. Dr. Andy Cope, author of ‘Happiness: your route map to inner joy’, advises: “The platforms that showcase all your friends and those you follow with a career that you so desperately desire that gives them a flashy lifestyle. Those people may not be happy either, and even if they are, you’re not them.”
What shocked me the most when I was researching this topic was the severe lack of studies that have been done on post-graduate mental health. However, the results I received on my survey prove that undergraduates really do struggle with their mental health. When I asked the people, I surveyed what advice they would give to undergraduates about post-university depression, their answers were varied. Answers ranged from getting full-time work to distract yourself, to downloading self-help apps like Headspace. The one thing that all my surveyed people were unanimous with was the need for undergraduates to discuss their mental health: “talk! Be as open as possible. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.”
If you are suffering from post-university depression, talk to someone. It could be a friend, a family member, or a counselor. It doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as you let someone know how you are feeling.