After College: Facing the Uncertainty of What’s Next and Prioritizing Mental Health Care
It’s one of the biggest transitions that one can experience in life; a piece of paper that embodies the years of hard work, friendships made, mentors gained, and a little bit of fun in between. Most parents dream of this moment: their child walking across a stage and receiving the diploma that opens a new chapter of life. There is much celebration and reward surrounding college graduations, yet why is it that students approaching the end of their college career shudder when they are asked “Are you excited to graduate?”
Being on a college campus, whether living on campus or commuting, you fall into a routine. You know all the places with the best foods, the stores that you frequent, and most importantly the health care network that you trust to take care of your physical and mental health. With current college students and recent graduates attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic, student health centers on campus have been facing higher levels of demand, especially when it comes to mental health counseling. A study from the 2020-2021 school year reported that more than 60% of college students across 373 campuses met the criteria for at least one mental health problem. The transition from being a college student to adulthood is scary for anyone, but when mental health disorders continue to increase among these students, this transition can be even more overwhelming.
A recent national student survey found that nearly eight in 10 (79%) graduating seniors say COVID-19 impacted their workforce preparedness, and 68% cited their mental health as the primary reason for feeling less prepared. While some 93% of students are hopeful about their future, 71% said they are somewhat or very stressed about entering the workforce. A vast majority of students (92%) said employers should offer mental and emotional health benefits, and 36% are prioritizing organizations that do in their job search. Most students (82%) plan to use resources to support their mental health after graduating.
So, what is the cause of this post-graduation stress and anxiety and how does one cope with it? According to Dr. Libby O’Brien, “Feeling anxiety, depression, or some degree of ‘stuckness’ and discomfort after graduating is normal. It’s a change, and change can be very challenging to negotiate. You don’t necessarily know what comes next.” She continues to explain that these feelings can be caused by a variety of reasons; for example, our visions of what life will look like after college don’t match reality. Another reason cited includes feeling pressure from yourself and others to not only become successful but achieve others’ visions of what post-graduation life will look like; this can be especially prevalent for first-generation college students. Putting expectations aside, the transition itself is a big one; students now face getting jobs, paying back loans, and tackling many other responsibilities of adulthood that they may not have experienced before. Not to mention the feelings of loneliness that may happen due to this all occurring while many of the friendships and support systems created while in school are no longer there or are changing significantly after graduation.
Coping with post-graduation anxiety or depression can feel like a big battle to engage in on top of all the other responsibilities that one is now facing, but even small efforts can help reduce the mental health impact of the transition. Many colleges offer services for alumni that can help new graduates with transitions into the workforce through services such as resume review, career coaching and other services and programs that can offer a means to feeling more organized and confident in approaching this new world. Another suggestion is starting small. There are a lot of changes occurring and things going on at this time, committing to something small such as cooking breakfast each morning at a specific time can create a new routine and help to feel less overwhelmed. Making time to catch up with friends can be a great way to reconnect with those who can support you and make you feel less alone. It is important to remember that while social media is an easy way of connecting with others, not everything on social media is reality and often depicts people being happier, busier, or even more successful than they are.
- Alimerican Psychological Association. Student mental health is in crisis. Campuses are rethinking their approach, Zara Abrams, Oct. 12, 2022
- WebMD, Post-College Depression: Why You Feel Lonely, Emily Delzell.
- Healthline, Post-Grad Depression Is Real — Why It Happens and How to Cope, May 23, 2022, Emily Swaim.
- TimelyCare, College seniors are prioritizing their mental and emotional health and an overwhelming majority think employers should, too. April 19, 2023.