Breaking Down: Anxiety and Depression in College Students

Most upperclassmen and post-grads will look back on their freshman year and remember the awkwardness of making new friends, the embarrassment of realizing that wearing your lanyard around your neck actually wasn’t cool, and the excitement of being on your own for the first time. But they’ll also think about how hard it was, how much they wanted to transfer and retreat back into the homemade dinners, laundry-folded-and-waiting-for-you nest that was Mom and Dad’s house.

I didn’t have that. Never one to shy away from school (my parents say I all but leapt into my preschool classroom—no clingy leg-holding here), I loved the start of freshman year. Yes, I sobbed myself to sleep that first night and was racked with nerves but the idea of starting somewhere new completely unknown was thrilling. I was going to make sure that, after four years at the University of Delaware (bleed blue and gold 4ever), I had done everything I had wanted to do. I made amazing friends, wrote for the campus fashion magazine, and joined a sorority that taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. After making many Burnett’s-induced memories, I was itching to go back for sophomore year.

And then something changed.

The beginning of the semester stretched out and for reasons I still don’t truly comprehend, I became apprehensive, lethargic, and uninterested in everything. I’m sassy and sarcastic as hell, so this was way out of character. But everything suddenly made me feel anxious. The thought of a night out or social interactions had me curled up in bed, forcing myself to calm down. It took all of my dwindling energy to force myself through my daily routine. I’d take sleeping pills to make myself go to bed because that was the only time I could forget how empty I felt. I’d wake up, have that brief moment of relief and then reality would come crashing back down, reminding me how I had become a shell of my former self.

Some people told me to “snap out of it” or that they “couldn’t deal with it.” I’m sorry that my mental health is too hard on you — my bad. And FYI: you can’t just “snap" out of psychological issues.

The night I spent screaming at myself in the mirror and crying on the bathroom floor was when I decided I needed help. Admitting that felt absolutely awful — I was supposed to have so much going on, I wasn’t supposed to be the “crazy” girl. I wasn’t supposed to have these kinds of problems.

I saw a few counselors — they all asked about my summer, insisting something traumatic must have happened to cause the sudden change. I took blood tests, hoping that a chemical imbalance would appear and give reasons for the shift in my demeanor. Finally, I met Val, a counselor at my student health center. We talked. She actually listened. I started taking anti-depressants and I looked forward to our bi-weekly meetings; at first, I felt I had so much to get out that our two-hour meetings were never enough. But slowly, I found that there was less and less I felt unhappy or anxious about. After a year, I was talking for maybe fifteen minutes and felt like things just might be okay again. I still swear by counseling — sometimes having a completely unbiased listener opens up new perspectives.

I had told my roommates the semester before it might be goodbye, that I might be going home for good. But despite the many New York colleges I looked up, I decided to return to UD for the spring. I just couldn’t shake the idea that leaving would mean missing out on a world of opportunity and I was right. I graduated from a school that, regardless of the good and bad memories it houses, will forever be my home.

Yes, I still struggle with anxiety. I’ve always been an over-thinker and a worrier and that’s probably something I’ll always deal with. I have to push the negative thoughts out and remind myself that the cruel things I say to myself are lies. I learned that there doesn’t have to be a reason — depression and anxiety can hit, and hit hard, no matter the occasion, or for no reason at all, especially in teenagers and young adults. With all of the stressors in college, from classes to pressure surrounding adult life and forming your own identity, it isn’t surprising that 75 percent of people with an anxiety disorder will experience symptoms before 22. What is surprising is how little is said about it.

In 2011, 30 percent of students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” According to the American Psychological Association, more than 30 percent of college students have reported seriously considering attempting suicide at some point in their lives — and that’s just those who have sought services for their mental health.

Mental health issues are NOT something to be ashamed of. Struggles with mental health do not mean that your feelings are invalid or that you are less of a person or unworthy of love or happiness. Psychological illnesses come in many degrees of severity and everyone’s experience is unique.

No one can tell what another person is going through by what they look like, say, or act. It’s become a taboo subject — as if you can “catch” one’s disorder simply by spreading knowledge about it. Maybe if we shared our stories a little more, we’d realize how many people are affected by mental illness. We’d be able to help one another. We’d learn that it’s okay to talk about it.

Get In On the Discussion

Psychological illnesses do not have to control your life — there are many outlets for getting help and living with disorders. Check out just a few of the hotlines and campus groups to turn to if you’re feeling like you could use some extra help and consult your doctor for further steps.

Anxiety and Depression Helplines

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Teen Health and Wellness

The Trevor Lifeline

National College Groups

Active Minds

NAMI on Campus


Feature photo by Julian Cousins.