Post-College Depression is Millennials’ Rite of Passage
Whether enduring the bites of a thousand fire ants, or diving off tall cliffs secured by flimsy vines, young people across all societies enter adulthood through structured and ritualized rites of passage.
But rituals in our modern society are far less unequivocal.
Commencement speakers address wide-eyed undergraduates with persuasive messages of inspiration. And then, the moment comes when we turn the tassel and toss our academic caps. Most step out of the ceremonial hall feeling like the world is at their fingertips, but the unlucky few see their ambitions drifting out of reach.
They’re left in dismay when faced with choice—either because of its overabundance, or its scarcity. They end up lost in the emotional smog of post-college depression, a dark cloud fed by the man-made pollutants of relentless self-criticism and shame.
I’ve grappled with this genre of gloom throughout my graduating year. Navigating a transition into adulthood has been a rough ride so far. My view is tellingly summarized by the wisecrack that “adulthood is like looking both ways before you cross the street, and then getting hit by an airplane.”
Upon graduation, we’re struck with an uncompromising reality as the burden of responsibility grows heavier. Some, like myself, begin to bend under the weight.
Our zeitgeist propagates post-college depression. University degrees are the equivalent of what high school diplomas were only a few decades ago. As such, millennials face challenges that earlier generations did not.
People in their twenties are under more pressure partly because of the cutthroat job market in an otherwise sluggish economy. Worse still, many of us feel woefully unprepared and ill-equipped. We’re digging for buried treasure with a plastic fork.
In an article published in the American Psychologist in 2000, Jeffrey Arnett coined the term “emerging adulthood” to describe a new wave of young people who cannot reach financial independence by their mid-to-late twenties.
Arnett suggests that emerging adults between 18 and 25 years play “roleless roles” as they struggle with “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between.” According to Arnett, various plausible factors such as longer lifespans, helicopter parenting, and fewer high-paying jobs perpetuate the delayed passage into adulthood.
Not only are young people entering adulthood later, but declines in their mental health are also following en route. According to the National College Health Assessment’s survey of 43,000 postsecondary students from 41 Canadian institutions in 2016, a fifth of young Canadians are depressed and anxious or suffering from other mental disorders.
The survey also presented a rise in reports of serious mental health crises such as depression and suicidal thoughts. That is, eight per cent fewer students than in 2013 reported that their health was good or excellent. Between three and four per cent more students said they experienced anxiety, depression, and stress that affected their academic performance. Even more alarmingly, 13 per cent of students reported considering suicide, up 3.5 per cent in 2013.
Transition periods are a state of flux and instability that serve as a significant source of anxiety and depression. This effect is heightened after graduation, when infinite possibilities bear infinite unanswered questions.
Between all the uncertainties, we need to muster up the courage to make responsible decisions. My advice is to develop a greater tolerance for frustration, and the ability to self-soothe. We need to find meaningful roles that can be personally fulfilling yet publicly contributive. Undoubtedly, this requires some patience and introspection—but we should expect obstacles along the way.
_Visit Counselling and Psychological Services on campus at H-440 (SGW) or AD 103 (Loyola) to request to see a counsellor. You can reach them at 514-848-2424 ext. 3545 (SGW) or at ext. 3555 (Loyola). _