Advice for students dealing with depression

girl looking out window

When you’re depressed, everything can feel like a struggle. Whether you’re the one who’s suffering or you’re worried about a friend, we’ve put together some resources and advice to help you deal with depression.

It can feel pretty scary to be worried about your mental health. You should know you’re not alone, though – the mental health charity Mind says that around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and in England one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression) in any given week.

We’ve spoken to a couple of mental health experts – qualified counsellor and psychotherapist Laura Hordern and Lisa Thomson, a mental health trainer from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust who’s also a family therapist and psychotherapist in the NHS – for advice on dealing with depression, and put together some resources that you might find helpful.

What is depression?

Everyone has times when they feel fed up or unhappy – but how are you meant to tell the difference between a bad mood and depression?

“Most people will have short periods of feeling down, low in mood and/or irritable – especially if something upsetting has happened,” says Lisa Thomson from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.

“This can go on for a few days but if this carries on for more than two weeks and is having an effect on life most days, then this could be a sign of depression.”

The NHS website says you might be depressed if you “feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days”.

teenager sitting on bench with head in hands

How would I know if I have depression?

Lisa says that “the symptoms of depression can vary between people but many find that they feel sad, irritable and lose interest in the things they used to enjoy.

“Depression can affect all areas of life including sleep, concentration, appetite, feeling physically unwell and for some it can feel like it will never get better. Everyday tasks can feel overwhelming and lead to staying at home and becoming more isolated.”

The NHS website describes these as a few symptoms of depression:

  • Having a low mood that lasts two weeks or more
  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Not being able to concentrate on everyday things
  • Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself.

If you’re 16 or over, the NHS has a mood self-assessment you can take to help you figure out if you’re depressed.

If you’re under 16, the NHS recommends looking at the Young Minds website.

teenager being comforted by her mother

What should I do if I think I’m depressed?

“If you think you are depressed, the most important thing to do it talk to someone about it. This could be a friend, a relative, a teacher or anyone who you feel safe talking to,” says Laura Hordern, who’s a counsellor and psychotherapist with over ten years of experience working in mental health. 

“Depression is very common in young people and most people will get better if they get the right support,” says Lisa.

“Many people feel better and less alone when they let others know how they are feeling and it is also the first step towards getting better.”

If you’re worried about how to tell your parents that you’re feeling depressed, Lisa suggests that “perhaps writing a note, text or email might feel easier and you can think about what to say.”

Laura says that “going to your GP can also be a good first port of call, as they can refer you for counselling through the NHS, or prescribe anti-depressants if you both think that’s the best course of action.

“Another place to look for help is at school or college – many institutions now have a free counselling service for students that you can access confidentially.

“If you are in immediate distress and feel like you need to talk to someone straight away, then using a telephone helpline such as the Samaritans or Papyrus is a really good option, as they can give you emotional support there and then.”

How can depression be treated?

There are a few ways that depression be treated, usually through a combination of self-help, talking therapies and medicines. The NHS website says that the type of treatment you need will probably depend on how severe your depression is.

“Most people find that talking to an adult who understands depression will really help,” says Lisa.

“This might be a counsellor or mental health worker at school or in the community. If this hasn’t helped after a few sessions then a referral to mental health services will be the next step. A talking treatment known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other approaches may be offered and some people may need a medication called an antidepressant alongside talking treatments.”

teenager standing alone on beach

Tips on dealing with depression

There are things you can do that might help ease some of the symptoms of your depression, if you feel up to it.

“When people feel low and down it can feel hard to face the world and easier to stay at home,” says Lisa. “However, it is often while we are alone that we may find ourselves dwelling and focusing on the things that upset us.

“This can make us feel worse as it can undermine our confidence and leave us feeling isolated. For many it really helps to try to do small everyday things that distract us, keep us busy and in contact with others – even if we can only manage this for a short time.”

In addition, Lisa says, “looking after yourself has been shown to be really helpful in improving your general wellbeing and really important in managing the symptoms of depression.”

Lisa suggests that a few important ways of looking after yourself include “eating small regular healthy meals,” trying to get enough sleep by “reducing caffeine intake, no screens 30 minutes before bed and having a regular bedtime routine” and exercising – “ideally doing a sport you enjoy with others or simply walking”.

Laura adds that it’s best to avoid “spending too much time on your devices. Social media can be a big source of distress – try to recognise if scrolling endlessly through your phone is causing more harm than good.”

Finally, Laura says, “I know that when you are feeling depressed all of these things can feel impossible, but just taking one day at a time and doing what you can is a great first step. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage any of them – be kind to yourself and acknowledge that it’s okay to allow yourself time and space to feel better.”  

How can I help a friend who’s dealing with depression?

If you’re worried that your friend might be depressed, there are a few things you can do to help them.

“Many people when low in mood feel really isolated and worry that they aren’t liked or are a burden to others,” says Lisa.

“Try to reach out to them, continue to invite them out (even if they don’t come), send a text, tag them in a meme or spend time with them doing something you both enjoy – even if they don’t want to talk. Try not to feel rejected if they don’t respond.”

Don’t worry too much about not knowing what to say. “Many people really appreciate having someone simply listen to them and feel that really helps. It can feel like a pressure to know what to say or do – being there for them and listening carefully really matters,” Lisa says.

Laura advises that “if your friend does talk to you, don’t try to ‘fix’ their problems by trying to give them solutions – it is much more helpful to simply listen and acknowledge how hard it is for them right now.”

“It could be helpful to encourage your friend to get outside and go for a walk – offer to go with them for company – it can also be much easier for people to open up and talk when walking side by side than sitting face to face,” Laura adds.

You could also “encourage your friend to do the things that normally give them pleasure, like going to the cinema or playing sports, but don’t be too pushy as they may withdraw,” Laura says.

As well as being there for your friend, it’s important that you encourage them to get support from elsewhere too, such as family members and professionals.

Lisa suggests that you could “look at trusted websites with them and research sources of support including self-help. It might be helpful to offer to help them make appointments, go along with them initially to support and help with any plans that are made.

“If you are concerned about something they are saying or you are worried that they aren’t safe it is really important that you are not alone with this. Many young people feel unable to tell adults how vulnerable they are feeling and tell friends.

This can be really difficult as a friend because you can be left feeling responsible for them and worry that you may be letting them down. The most important thing is that they stay safe while things are difficult and many people feel relief if a trusted friend takes the first step for them in letting an adult know.”

Take a look at TSR's mental health hub

Resources

Campaign Against Living Miserable (CALM) – 0800 58 58 58

CALM provide support for young men aged 15 to 35 suffering from depression. You can call them on 0800 58 58 58 or use their webchat for anonymous and confidential support from 5pm to midnight.

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust have lots of resources to help deal with mental health issues, including this booklet about depression and the Students Against Depression project.

Childline – 0800 1111

You can contact Childline on 0800 1111, chat to a counsellor one-to-one online or send them an email. You can get in touch with Childline about anything that’s worrying you, and it’s all totally confidential – you don’t even have to give your name if you don’t want to.

Childline also has a section of its website specifically covering exam stress and pressure.

The Mix – 0808 808 4994

The Mix provide help and support to under 25s. You can call them on 0808 808 4994, email them here, use their crisis messenger for 24/7 support, chat one-on-one to a trained team member online or use The Mix counselling service for short-term help (usually around eight counselling sessions of 50 minutes). 

The Mix also has resources for dealing with exam stress.

Nightline

Nightline is a listening, emotional support, information and supplies service, run by students for students.

You can find your university’s Nightline here.

Papyrus – 0800 068 41 41

Papyrus provide support for those dealing with suicide, depression or emotional distress – particularly teenagers and young adults.

You can call the Papyrus HOPELINE on 0800 068 41 41.

The Samaritans – 116 123

You can call The Samaritans on 116 123 24 hours a day. You can also get help from the Samaritans by emailing [email protected], writing a letter or visiting a branch of the Samaritans in person.

stem4

stem4 is a charity supporting teenage mental health. You can find resources to help you understand more about depression on their website.

Student Minds

Student Minds are the UK’s student mental health charity. They run support groups across the country and are at the forefront of creating campaigns to raise awareness of the current state of student mental health.

Young Minds

Young Minds are committed to helping young people improve their mental health. If you’re in crisis, you can text the YoungMinds Crisis Messenger for 24/7 support – for urgent help text YM to 85258.

If you need urgent help, please call one of the helplines below and contact a health professional. 

UK - Samaritans (116 123)

USA - The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1 800 273 8255)

Australia - Lifeline (13 11 14)

Hotlines in other countries can be found here.

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