1. "Having no friends there brought me into an endless cycle of sadness."
My freshman year of college I was at a very large school and felt swallowed up by it. I'm pretty introverted and had a hard time meeting new people. Having no friends brought me into an endless cycle of sadness. I didn't really feel anything, which led me to not caring enough to get up and go to classes. This caused failing grades, which only caused me to sink further into the depression. I finished the year there, but after that I went to a community college while getting therapy so that I could be closer to my family; before, they were six hours away and I never got to see them. For my junior year, I decided to go to a small college about a half hour away from home. It was such a good choice; the smaller environment made it easier to make friends — I made some that will last a lifetime. My advice to high schoolers searching for colleges is to seriously think about what environments you thrive in.
2. "You have to take control and get help if you are struggling."
My depression was accompanied by an eating disorder, which I slowly developed during my second semester at Cornell University. I was struggling to balance school, my parents' divorce, and a long-distance boyfriend who was not treating me well. I took it all out on myself and began to compulsively exercise, and eventually restricted my food intake. I didn't realize what was wrong with me; I just knew I was always tired, cold, and extremely unhappy. I felt like I was a transparent entity floating around campus, and I never went out with friends no matter how hard they tried to convince me to. During that summer, when I was living alone and interning as a research assistant, things got worse because no one was around to see how I was wasting away. Eventually I reached out to my parents because I was so, so tired of being inside my head all the time. I took the following year off of school and went to a treatment center to get my life back in control. Now, I have been back on campus for almost two years, have an internship lined up in the summer, and am getting through each day better than the last. Taking control and getting help is the hardest thing to do when you're struggling, but it could save your life.
3. "I’m not OK, but I think I will be."
People always told me these would be the best years of my life, which is why I think depression in college hurts so much more. I came in expecting a blur of laughter, like a scene out of some college movie, but really it’s full of sleepless nights from homework; professors that make me want to change majors or even schools; botched interviews that made me feel worthless and unqualified for life in general; tuition increases that make me doubt my future; failed assignments I spend weeks perfecting; some of the worst people I've ever met. I went into college expecting so much that, even if I wasn’t depressed, nothing could live up to my expectations. I’m the odd girl out who listens to her iPod everywhere on campus because I can’t stand my own thoughts. I study in my room because I don’t want to sit alone at the library. I binge-watch Netflix because I don’t sleep at night. I haven't been able to overcome my depression. I’m still fighting it, but I’ve made my first mental health clinic appointment. I’m not OK, but I think I will be.
4. "The lowest points involved me crying for hours and not going to class."
I failed out of three different schools because of my depression. I would start the semester strong and then never show up to class. I'd cry for hours and then not go to class because I was too exhausted from crying to drag myself out of bed. I ended up going to a local community college, where I held it together for a semester, then failed out again once my parents stopped keeping an eye on me. I decided to try going to beauty school instead, which I also failed out of. I wasn't able to turn things around until I went to a psych ward and was diagnosed as manic depressive with an eating disorder. Since then, I started back at school, and I am now about to graduate with an associate's degree.
—Rebecca Barber, Facebook
5. "I worry the depression is going to come back."
I became depressed last year when I transferred to my current college. I felt invisible at my school because the school considered me a junior, but the dance program considered me a sophomore and put me in all-freshmen classes. My school is also predominantly white, so I felt overlooked for that reason as well. I also have OCD, which contributed to my depression. At the beginning of this year, I started taking Paxil, which allowed me to pay attention in class but made me pretty numb; I've switched to Prozac but it doesn't really work the way Paxil did. I worry the depression is going to come back.
—Rachael Tyce Appold
6. "It’s so hard to find the courage and motivation to get the help I need."
I am lucky that my professors have been understanding, and I have been able to work closely with a psychiatric nurse, a counselor, my adviser, my dean, and the head of academic support services to make accommodations. As hard as it is to struggle when I want to succeed, it is good to have a team of people on my side who care about me. I have told a few friends and they are supportive as well. It’s so hard to find the courage and motivation to get the help I need, but it’s so rewarding when I can get support. I most value the friends that treat me like all their other friends, who can just watch TV or talk with me about anything without me worrying about what they think of me or worrying that I might upset them.
7. "I was completely unable to get out of bed most days."
I had my associate's degree and was starting at a state university. In the middle of that first fall semester, depression hit. Not only was I taking classes that I was not prepared for, but I was also completely unable to get out of bed most days. My college had free counseling sessions and I went to both private and group meetings for a while, until I couldn’t even make it out of my house for those. I was skipping classes regularly, skipping counseling, not talking to people, and I felt completely lost among the hordes of students that were surrounding me when I was able to make it to campus. It was a dark hole, and I made the decision to take some time off from school to focus on getting better. I am now a student at a completely different university studying something that I am passionate about, and though my depression still leaks in I'm trying not to skip class. So far, it’s worked.
8. "Depression makes every day a challenge."
Moving to campus when I was 18 triggered me severely and made me have multiple panic attacks a day. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 15, so I knew I had to seek out the resources available to me. I started by visiting the health services center and meeting with a counselor, but it didn't really help. I got a referral from my therapist at home and sought a therapist off campus. Three years later, I still see her every week. Most of the time I’m able to make myself get up and go to class and do some work, but it’s exhausting. I’m often afraid to tell people about my depression because of the stigma around it, but my close friends are aware that I struggle with it. They try to check in with me when they can, which means a lot. My school has not been nearly as understanding or accommodating. I was kicked off campus my sophomore year after a bad depressive episode which, unsurprisingly, made my depression worse. Luckily that depressive state came in the form of anger that allowed me to finish up the semester with straight A's as a way to “stick it to the man." I’m in my last semester of college and my depression, which had been under control for about seven months, is slowly creeping back in. I’m trucking along as best I can, but depression makes every day a challenge.
9. "I thought people wouldn't treat me the same."
After I was raped during my third semester of college by a guy I considered my friend, I fell into a depression. I didn't attend classes because I had no motivation. I had been part of a sorority for a year, but after I was diagnosed with depression by the school psychiatrist, I didn't want to leave my room. All I wanted to do was sleep and eat; it just seemed like a way of coping without having to tell people. There's such a negative stigma around depression and mental illness that I thought people wouldn't treat me the same. I finally broke down and talked to my women's studies professor, and he strongly urged me to see a counselor. I've been going to a counselor now for about two months and I release my pent-up anger and frustration and fear at the gym. I want to tell the people that are also going through what I'm going through that it gets better. Go to a counselor; it really does help. Don't be scared because you'll be OK.
10. "What got me through the hard times abroad was the wonderful people I met."
I thought that by studying abroad I would be able to run away from my depression, that I'd be so busy having adventures and traveling around the world I wouldn't even have time to be depressed. It turns out that your problems just travel with you. I was in a foreign country speaking a foreign language and was consistently surrounded by strangers. The only time I could connect with friends and family from home was through the internet, which was pretty inconsistent there. Not only did I feel completely isolated in my depression, but I felt extremely guilty; I was supposed to be having the time of my life. What got me through the hard times abroad were the wonderful people I met. The family I lived with abroad are all wonderful people, and when they weren't seeking me out, I was going out of my way to spend time with them. Eventually I made some wonderful friends who were also having rough semesters, and we were able to help each other not just survive the semester, but eventually thrive. You can't run away from your depression, I had to learn that the hard way, but no matter where you are in the world, you can prevail over your depression. Depression doesn't have to ruin your semester abroad, your "best years" at college, or your life. There are many different resources available that can help. It just might take time.
—Samantha Dulak, Facebook
11. "No one knows how you feel until you tell them."
For how much depression sucks, I actually had a semi-positive experience in college. I was officially diagnosed my last semester of school, as senioritis took over and I physically could not make myself do any work. I had been a star student up until that point, so this was frightening to think that if I didn't get it together, I would not graduate. I sought help from my school's health center, and a psychiatrist really listened to my issues and prescribed me fluoxetine. I also attended my college's counseling center, which provides inexpensive sessions. Although I can't say exactly what helped, I know a lot of it was my understanding and accommodating professors. I went to a small, private school, and had a core group of teachers that had gotten to know me and seen me grow over my four years there, so they knew this was not just a case of laziness. They continually asked how I was doing, offered to help in whatever way they could, and gave me more time on assignments. I ended up graduating with honors, and I give all the credit to my professors and my parents for carrying me across the finish line. If I have one thing to say to someone who might be struggling with depression, it is to tell people: No one knows how you feel until you tell them, and they can't help you until they know.
12. "I’m so grateful for the support I got from my loved ones."
I was really scared about going into college with depression. College was so different compared to high school: The workload was higher, as was the pressure to do well. I started off as a biology major, one of the hardest majors, and I struggled. I would have days where I didn’t want to go to class, do homework, or get out of bed. I used to sleep all the time, choosing sleep over homework, and my grades suffered. I wanted to drop out, but I didn’t. I found a class I loved, and I had friends to eat with. I felt happier. But I still struggled with episodes of depression, and it wasn’t until my boyfriend convinced me to go to the therapist on campus that I had someone to talk to who understood my difficulties. When I started taking antidepressants on my therapist's recommendation, I felt my mind was finally stable; I could focus on my school work and wasn’t as anxious. I changed my major to philosophy and was much happier. With the help of my boyfriend and friends, I was happy again. I was hopeful for the future, and felt like I could do anything. I’m so grateful for the support I got from my loved ones and the therapy center in my school. Now as a sophomore in my spring semester of college, I am happier than ever. My depression and anxiety aren't totally gone; I still go to therapy and take my pills. Depression isn’t a quick fix, it takes time and effort in order to heal and to get better. But it does get better.
13. "If I was OK, it was because they cared."
I've struggled with depression for just over nine years. College has been rough because I'm five hours from home. I want to hide my struggles from the people I know, which makes me distant and cold. But inside, I'm dying for connection. Lately I've been pretty OK, but last week was rough. I ended up missing two days of classes because I couldn't get out of bed. The second day, I dragged myself out of bed and missed my first class because I spent so much time just staring blankly in the mirror. I honestly don't remember what I was thinking or even doing. I ended up crawling back into bed and sleeping for the rest of the day. I opened up to a few close friends that I've learned to really trust, and honestly, they're the reason I'm on the upward slope. They would text to make sure I was showering and feeding myself and encourage me to call home, come to their dorm, or go to the school counselor. If I wasn't OK, they were there. If I was OK, it was because they cared.