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We need to talk about post-uni depression

It is difficult to imagine life without so much routine

Night walks across the Strand campus, King’s College London

A few months ago, I published a blog post discussing the qualms of higher education, in particular highlighting what every student was going to feel between freshers and graduation.

I described the university experience as a barometer of emotional pressures. Constant feelings of wanting to drop out and not being good enough (often triggered by unnecessarily complex academic papers on readings lists) are proceeded by pangs of graduate blues.

meme created by @L0UCIFEROUS

The first feeling is definite, confirmed, concrete — it’s real. Everyone feels it. I know because I ask most people I meet. Did you feel like dropping out? Yes, same. That’s when we share our stories and sing kumbaya. It’s been two days since I felt like dropping out. Applause.

It is easier to self-diagnose the tangled feeling inside when you are aware that most students are walking yarn balls. You offer your roommate red bull in the middle of their deadline break-down, a silent but reassuring gesture. You tell them that everyone feels like dropping out at some point. Maybe you say it in a Brummie accent because the poor soul is from Birmingham and this is your way of making them laugh (you sound like an idiot).

At this point, you’re empathetic, which is a grade above sympathy — you were in their shoes last month. Let’s not forget the group chats, the communal meeting points where students perform as customer advisors and therapists. These moments of crying, complaining and being saved by coursemates (a group of Barakiels dressed in parkas and berets) are stored in your inboxes.

The difference between uni and post-uni depression is visibility; after graduation, no one speaks in those group chats anymore. The only access we have to our university colleagues are via social media posts. The communal aspect of asking for and delivering help dissipates. A once-in-a-blue-moon tweet from a friend confessing that they lack creativity, need someone to talk to or feel downcast does unite the cohort. The responses are always filled with encouragement and praise for their former classmate. So, we’re still as helpful as before.

Post-uni depression and loneliness exist even if no one publically admits it. It often exists as a shameful, guilty feeling or reaction for not having secured a job, house or a certain lifestyle when everyone else seems to have made it. It coexists with the unreliable narrator of our social media selves. We compare our graduate lifestyle to others; someone is posting snaps of New York so they probably bagged a job there. In reality, the pictures are throwbacks. Someone else is interning with a top artist so they have the contacts that I don’t. In reality, the artist is probably a family friend.

When I published my blog post, I cloaked my sadness with funny anecdotes. It didn’t occur to me that I was feeling depressed until someone pointed it out.

We spend at least 3 years of our life making a new home, making a new family, then we just move out and start adult life. That shit is tough on the soul. @sophjbutler

My formal education began in reception at Whitehorse Manor in Thornton Heath. I was five years old. My earliest school memories are of two blonde twins, bus rides from Thornton Heath to Selsdon, living above a chippy shop and walking into a wall. Other people began their formal education in Nursery.

I’ve been in education for seventeen years and that’s a long time. Nearly two decades of expectations; of grades, anticipation and routine. The last three years were spent commuting on the Southern, Circle and District lines. Unlike others, I love train journeys. In autumn, I would walk from Temple to Embankment just to pass the small park in between and smell the mossy texture of the air. Maybe I’m not depressed. But there is something inside that definitely feels different. Until that moment when you submit your last academic work, your life has always been managed by routine.

Routine, routine, routine until there is none and you can wake up at 2 pm and wander around the Tate until it hits you.

In those seventeen or eighteen years, you don’t have time to worry about the word next. At least not for those who followed the linear progression of education: school, school, college and university. Then it hits you: What do I do next? Some people do a Masters to escape the inception period (a qualification that often makes them overqualified for some jobs.) They choose to undertake a postgraduate degree because the prospect of leaving education is unfamiliar.

The solution? We need to be more open about our feelings and not be afraid to ask for help. Create group chats. Speak to third years and prepare them for the next stage — which is not going to be the bliss they imagined. University departments also need to provide support.

More importantly, we need to make post-uni depression and loneliness visible.