Understanding Post-Graduation Depression And How To Handle It Effectively

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Many people think of college graduation as a time of accomplishment, happiness, and excitement for the future. Graduating college marks an important milestone in many people's lives, but it can also be a time of stressful transitions and changes, whether that means moving across the country for a job opportunity, living on your own for the first time, or not seeing close friends as often. For young adults, the years immediately after college can often be a lonely and difficult time. In many cases, it's the first time they have to deal with adult tasks and stressors like working full-time, paying rent and bills, and saving up for significant expenses. Compounding these stressors, today's college grads often have to cope with an uncertain economy and wages that haven't kept up with the cost of living.

With all of this on the plate of recently graduated college students, it's no surprise that many young adults experience post-graduation depression. Stressful transitions can exacerbate existing mental illnesses or even cause new ones to form. Even when they're looking forward to professional life, recent grads often struggle to match expectations with reality, and can often face personal and professional setbacks that can have a profound impact on their mental health. Understanding this reality and learning how to combat post college depression can be key to confidently stepping into this new season of life.

Feeling depressed after graduating from college?

Symptoms of post-graduation depression

While some of the symptoms of post-graduation depression can overlap with normal feelings of sadness and anxiety in response to significant life changes, these symptoms tend to be more severe and last for a much longer period. Depression (also known as major depressive disorder) is a serious mental illness that requires professional treatment. Symptoms can be debilitating and have a significant negative effect on work, personal relationships, and life. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists common symptoms of depression as:

  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Excessive guilt
  • Withdrawal from family and friendships
  • Reckless behavior
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Frequently feelings of loneliness (possibly due to isolation)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Anger and irritability
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Persistent sadness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, consider contacting a suicide prevention helpline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling or texting 988 or chatting with a representative.

Individuals may turn to drug or alcohol use to try to self-medicate overwhelming symptoms. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is common for substance use disorders to co-occur with mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD. However, substance misuse (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “substance abuse”) can lead to exacerbated symptoms of mental illness, leading to a vicious cycle. Dual diagnosis treatment is targeted to address both the substance use disorder and the diagnosed mental illness.

How to combat it

If you're struggling, there are a wide variety of strategies you can implement to manage your symptoms and begin to heal. From adopting healthy habits to seeking support from a mental health professional, different people can find various lifestyle changes, activities, and techniques to be helpful. Consider trying the following:

1. Reach out to friends and family

While it can feel like all of your financial or emotional support systems have fallen away after graduation, many people will be more than happy to help you through a difficult time. It can be a lengthy process to develop a new support system, especially when you feel isolated. Try to connect with friends who are going through similar experiences, whether you can meet up in person or online. This can help when you feel lonely, and in return, you can let your friends know that you're there for them in return. If you have family that you're close to, consider talking with them about these symptoms or other mental health challenges you’re experiencing.

2. Stay active

When you're overwhelmed and anxious, exercise may be far down on your list of priorities. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America discusses the link between physical activity and improved mental health. Try incorporating exercise into your daily routine, even if it's just a walk around the block. If you exercised regularly in college, whether as part of an organized sport or through classes at the gym, look into similar offerings in your area. If you can find a physical activity that you enjoy and stick to it, you can reap both physical and mental benefits.

3. Eat healthily

If you've been relying on dining hall food for the past few months or even years, it can be especially challenging to get into the routine of cooking daily, but nourishing, nutritious food can give you a boost in all aspects of your health. Cooking can also be a fun way to test out new skills, try unique recipes, and learn different things. If you've been craving the intellectual stimulation of a school environment, consider taking a cooking class or teaching yourself new techniques in the kitchen at home.

4. Reflect on your goals and aspirations

Post-graduation depression can leave you feeling adrift and at a loss. While the future might still be uncertain, earning a degree is an accomplishment you can be proud of. Though it inevitably brings many changes, this new stage of your life can be an opportunity to reflect on everything you've achieved, as well as to set new goals for the future. Think about what you've loved about your college experiences and try to find ways to capture aspects of them going forward.

5. Treat yourself

While it may not solve all your problems, treating yourself to a favorite meal, an item on your bucket list, or even just taking a moment to relax and unwind can be a powerful way to give your mental health a little boost. In this time of transition and change, it can be important to focus on your happiness and well-being, including in the little everyday aspects of your life.

Whether you book yourself a tropical vacation or buy a pint of your favorite ice cream, self-care can be an important part of mental health. Beyond focusing on simple pleasures, remember to take care of your mind and your body on a deeper level. Try to get enough sleep, spend time with people who care about you, and use your off hours to relax and do things that you enjoy.

6. Seek professional help

If you're having trouble getting into a healthy mental space during your life after college, medical professionals can help get you on the right track. It can be important to be proactive and seek out mental health services if you're living with post-college depression. Depression can worsen over time if left untreated, but intervention with the right tools and support can help you heal.

Reasons for post-college depression

While reasons for post-college depression are unique to each, there are a few key factors that can contribute to it, such as:

Trouble finding a job

One of the most common struggles for recent graduates is to find a promising job in their field of choice. While some young adults and graduates are lucky enough to land a dream job right away, many other adults and graduates are underemployed or unemployed. These struggles can exist no matter what level of degree a person has acquired, whether that be a bachelor’s degree, master's degree, or a Ph. D. A lack of success in the job search can lead to frustration, depressed feelings, and increased self-doubt.

Without a steady salary to fall back on, recent grads may also worry about money for rent and bills and might have to move back in with their parents for financial reasons. Student loan debt and other financial challenges can make job-hunting that much more stressful.

Trouble adjusting to working life

Even for college graduates who can snag a job in their field, it can be a tough transition to full-time work and a new environment. Most recent grads are entering the world of 9-5 jobs for the first time, and it can be challenging and overwhelming to have work take up so much of your time when you're not used to it. Moving from a self-directed schedule consisting of classes, homework, and studying to a rigid schedule and office environment can be a difficult transition, especially for those who value a sense of flexibility and freedom.

Feeling depressed after graduating from college?

Adult responsibilities

For some students, post-college life is the first time they'll deal with a wide variety of adult responsibilities, from cooking dinner each night to paying bills on time. Even if you've been fending for yourself for a while, life can be overwhelming without the safety net of school, parents, or peers to fall back on. "Adulting" can be challenging even during the best of times and is often exacerbated by other stressful aspects.

Financial precarity

With wages that haven't kept up with the cost of living, student debt at an all-time high, and prospects for home ownership and retirement savings looking grim, one of the most significant factors in post-graduation depression isfinancial precarity. Millennials and Generation Z face an uncertain economic climate, one in which they can expect to earn less than their parents did and arrive at milestones like marriage and children much later in life. Financial precarity can be a significant predictor of depression in any age group but may be especially challenging when you're just starting out in life.

Online counseling with BetterHelp

Whether you're looking for a licensed professional counselor or just need someone to talk to, BetterHelp offers a diverse selection of online counseling services that can provide you with the help you need to manage your mental health. BetterHelp works with thousands of mental health professionals who are trained to help individuals facing mental health conditions—like depression, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder—or difficult life stressors. Graduating college means stepping into a new routine and new challenges, and a therapist can be there for you along the way. Whether you’re moving across the country or staying put, BetterHelp allows you to speak with a professional through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging at your convenience. 

The efficacy of online counseling 

Research has shown that online counseling can be just as, if not more effective than face-to-face therapy. One study assessed the ability of an online-based intervention to successfully treat depression. Researchers found that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy “was more effective than face-to-face CBT at reducing depression symptom severity.”


If you’ve just graduated from college, you might be nervous about what’s coming next in your life. Though there may be a lot of unknowns, it can be helpful to also recognize the world of possibilities at your fingertips. If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, or just have questions about post-graduate life, it can be helpful to have someone to confide in. An online therapist can work with you no matter where life may take you and help you move past the obstacles you’re facing.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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