Young Black woman with long hair in braids sits outside college campus with sad expression 1
Luis Velasco/Stocksy United

Life after college can be hard. If you have felt a little down since graduation, you are not alone.

“The post-grad transition period is hard for many people. Some people go on to develop post-grad depression, meaning they feel so depressed they can’t function in daily life.”

Depression among young adults ages 18 to 25 has steadily risen over the past decade. Young adults now have double the rate of depression as the general population (people over the age of 18).

The table below breaks down the statistics reported in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Young adults (18 to 25) who had at least one major depressive episode Adults (over 18) who had at least one major depressive episode
2010 8.3% 6.8%
2020 17% 8.4%

“Some young adults don’t experience depression after graduating from college. The transition out of school is a common one.”

A lot of social, financial, emotional, and even existential challenges can come tumbling your way at once if you toss that cap into the air.

Why do college graduates feel depressed? Is it always depression that comes from those mood changes? What can you do to feel better?

Find answers to these questions and more information on post-grad depression.

Is depression or just growing pains the reason for your post-graduation blues? Time is a factor.

Depression typically makes you feel sad, low, or hopeless nearly every day, in most situations, for at least 2 weeks.

“The severity of your symptoms can offer a clue. It is perfectly normal to feel stressed or tired during transition periods. If you spend most of your day in bed or feel so distraught you can’t concentrate, then something more serious may be going on.”

Difficulty adjusting?

If you’re dealing with adjustment issues, or adjustment disorder with depression, you may only feel low in specific contexts. For example, working at a job you can’t stand, or when striking out on the dating scene.

Once you start adjusting to life after college, these symptoms will likely improve.

If depression of feelings related to adjustment persist for more than 6 months, you could have major depression, not adjustment disorder.

There are a few ways that post-grad depression might show up.

  • Guilt, shame, or self-loathing. You may regret how you spent your time at college, wishing you’d studied harder or spent more time with friends. Maybe you criticize yourself for choosing the “wrong” major or the “wrong” school.
  • Cynicism and irritation. When your degree doesn’t get you where you expected, you may feel deceived or cheated. Your anger at the situation may spill over into other parts of your life.
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure. Perhaps you have trouble enjoying your old hobbies without your college crew around. Everything you do without them may seem boring or pointless.
  • Hopelessness. Scrolling through social media might give you the impression your classmates are all doing fabulously. Feeling as if you’vemissed the boat to a better future, you might desperately wish you could go back in time for a do-over.
  • Lack of motivation. It can be hard to move forward when all the roads in front of you seem fraught with potholes and sharp turns. You may have trouble pushing yourself to send out resumes or find new roommates.
  • Change in appetite. Depression can leave you constantly hungry, or it can make planning and preparing every meal feel like a chore. Changes in your eating patterns might lead to unintentional weight loss or gain.
  • Sleep issues. Depression can throw off your sleep cycle. You may find yourself exhausted, sleeping into the afternoon, or struggling to get any sleep at all.
  • Brain fog. You may forget simple things like where you left your keys or have trouble focusing at your job. Even straightforward decisions, like what to eat, can feel overwhelming.

“Depression won’t be caused by graduating from college.”

But if you have a higher risk of developing depression, the stress you face during this period, or any major life challenge, could lead to depression.

Graduation-related stressors can include:

The job hunt

A lot of people fresh out of college have a hard time getting a job in their field that pays in cash.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2022, adults ages 20 to 24 have an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent — nearly double the national average.

“Many college graduates are stuck in limbo because they don’t have the experience to get high-paying jobs, but they have to compete for low-paying jobs with teens, who can legally pay under minimum wage for the first 90 days.”

Some members of your family or social circle may not understand the current economic reality. They might think you are choosing not to work when you apply for jobs regularly and get a steady stream of refusals.


As of December 2021, 41 percent of recent college graduates report underemployment, meaning they have a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Gig work is fine, retail work is fine. It can be pretty demoralizing to spend years studying a subject and not be able to find a job in your field, even if you do get a job.

Contrary to popular belief, a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) isn’t a guarantee against underemployment. In 2019, one in 15 recent STEM graduates were working outside their field of study, involuntarily.

Student loans

According to the Education Data Initiative, 65 percent of college graduates leave school with student loan debt. The average starting balance for graduates with bachelor’s degrees:

  • $30,030 for public universities.
  • $33,900 for private universities.
  • For-profit universities cost $43,900.

It can be very hard to see how having that much money can affect your outlook. You will fall further behind if you work more than you should.

Hefty student loan debts can also lead to thoughts of suicide. In a 2021 survey of 2,300 high-debt borrowers, one in 14 reported considering suicide. Among borrowers who were unemployed or made less than $50,000, one in eight people reported considering suicide.

Need to talk?

If you are having thoughts of suicide or other feelings of overwhelm, you might not know where to turn or who to ask for help.

You can always get free, confidential support from a trained crisis counselor by calling a hotline.

Crisis counselors can provide therapy.

  • It is possible to share distress and vent difficult feelings.
  • Help you practice calming distress in the moment.
  • Help you process and work through unpleasant experiences.
  • Guidance and ideas for getting support.
  • Provide more options for support in your area.

Get in touch with us now.


Most of the peers at the same stage as you are in colleges. College campuses give you plenty of opportunities for socializing and you can often structure your class schedule to have more time for free time.

“You might find socializing harder after graduation. Friends move away or get busy. If you don’t move back home, you may lose touch with your family.”

It can take time to rebuild your social network. In the meantime, loneliness and a weakened support system can leave you more vulnerable to depression.

According to a 2018 survey of 20,000 Americans, young adults ages 18 to 25 had a mean loneliness score of 47.87, compared to the national average of 44.03.

This score makes young adults the loneliest age group — even lonelier than adults over the age of 65, who had a mean loneliness score of 40.

The state of the world

“Today’s graduates have a lot of crises in front of them, including loneliness and financial difficulties.”

Many young adults have been hit hard by this combination of threats. They will have to survive in whatever society grows out of these concerns.

“It is difficult to feel hopeful about the future when you don’t know if one will exist.”

One recent survey screened 15,000 graduate students for depressive symptoms. According to the results, the rate of depressive symptoms increased more than two-fold between 2019 and 2020: from 15 percent to 32 percent.

Depression that happens after graduation may not always relate to the difficulties you experience after graduation.

Mood disorders like major depression and bipolar disorder often first appear in early adulthood, too. According to 2022 research, roughly 23 percent of mood disorders begin between the ages of 18 and 25.

Mental health conditions that may show up around this age include:

  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorders (CRSDs). Issues with your body’s internal clock can make it hard to get consistent, high-quality sleep. You may feel fatigued and fuzzy-headed, but you probably won’t have the persistent hopelessness or self-criticism that often characterizes depression.
  • Schizophrenia. Like depression, schizophrenia can involve social withdrawal, sleep problems, and loss of interest in everyday life. But schizophrenia also involves psychosis, which includes symptoms like hallucinations or catatonia.
  • Seasonal depression. Most people with seasonal depression experience symptoms in winter, but some do experience depression in spring, around graduation time. Unlike major depression, spring depression will likely improve when the season changes.
  • Adjustment disorder with depression. As mentioned above, this condition involves difficulty coping with a stressful or challenging life event. You might feel sad, hopeless, or cry more than you typically would. It generally improves within about 6 months, but therapy can still have benefit in the meantime.

While you can’t snap your fingers and fix all of the societal issues that make post-grad depression so common, you can take action to help yourself feel better.

There are a few strategies to try.

Take advantage of alumni services

Career services are provided by many colleges.

You can use these services to get free resume editing, career coaching, or alumni-exclusive mentorship programs.

“Don’t hesitate to use them, you paid for them with your tuition.”

Catch up with friends

Social media often makes people seem much busier and happier than they really are.

If you miss college, your friends will too. If everyone avoids reaching out, you might lose the chance to maintain your friendship.

“You can still hold on to those connections even if you can’t return to college. A short phone conversation or video chat can help you feel less alone.”

Start small

It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in your life. Start with one small goal and you will be in a better place.

For example, you might commit to having breakfast each morning for a week. Health is holistic: Improving one part of your overall well-being — boosting physical energy by getting enough nutrients each day — can indirectly help other areas of well-being, like your mood.

Plus, if depression makes everything feel impossible, a small success under your belt can remind your brain that you can make a change and stick with it.

Go easy on yourself

People who find the post-grad period difficult are surrounded by unfair stereotypes. You may be unfairly cast as lazy for having a hard time finding work or feeling motivated.

Depression is not laziness. It’s a mental health condition that has tangible effects on your mind and body.

“It may not feel easy, but try not to take the messages too personally. Being a bad or lazy person doesn’t mean you have mental health symptoms.”

You worked hard for years to get the grades you deserved. Someone with a poor work ethic would not have been able to do that.

Therapy, antidepressants, or a mix of both can be used for depression treatment.

“You don’t need to experience major depression or thoughts of suicide before you get support. Depression can be treated if it begins to affect you.”

  • daily life
  • Relationships with romantic partners, friends, family, or co-workers
  • Performance at school.

Depression can be treated with different types of therapy.

Learn more about treatment for depression.

A few options for finding a therapist after college include:


“You won’t be able to set up free appointments at your college counseling center after you graduate. You can still ask for referrals.”

If you have a healthcare professional, you can check in with them.

Online database

Some mental health organizations, like the American Psychological Association or Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists, offer a free online directory you can use to find mental health professionals near you.

Teletherapy platforms

Some platforms offer subscription-based online therapy. These services often charge by month or week instead of by session. You can use these platforms to connect with a therapist via chat room, email, telephone, or live video.

Insurance provider directory

If you currently have health insurance, you might start by checking for mental health professionals in your network.

Many mental health professionals take insurance. You can check with your insurance company for a list of available professionals.

“If you find a therapist who doesn’t take insurance, your insurance company might offer reimbursement for out-of-network providers. Checking your policy is a good place to start.”

In search of more free or low-cost options for therapy? Check out our guide to therapy for every budget.

It is common to feel depressed after graduation. Post-grad life is more difficult for recent college graduates.

“You don’t have to go through this transition on your own. When you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out for it, and connect with friends and loved ones, because there are plenty of resources to help new graduates.”

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.