Depression at university

Depression, in a non-technical sense, is a term that is often used by the media and the public to describe feeling low in mood. Indeed, many people experience depressive symptoms from time to time; often such symptoms are completely understandable and their presence does mean that there is ‘anything wrong with you’. ‘Normal’ depressive symptoms do not last for weeks on end and nor do they significantly impact on your ability to carry on with your day to day activities. However, should you experience weeks of low mood, be unable to enjoy ordinarily, enjoyable activities and/or feel that you have little to no energy or motivation then you may be suffering with clinical depression. Whilst mild depression may respond well to lifestyle changes (see below) or self-help approaches, if the problem continues you should speak to a healthcare professional such as your GP or student counselling.


Tips for reducing depression

There are some things which may help your mood if you feel able to do them – but don’t worry if you don’t feel well enough to do them:

  • Aerobic exercise can have a positive benefit on mood and wellbeing. See: Exercise
  • Spend time with people you trust, such as friends or family. Isolating yourself can make depression worse by allowing your mind to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Try to talk to someone you trust about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Do not sit in front of your work for hours when you are unable to think clearly; try to do something different, ideally something with the potential to be pleasurable or which will mean you have to interact with other people. Depression often affects concentration which in turn affects short term memory. These symptoms will gradually improve as your depression lifts. In the meantime, just do what you can, at times when you feel able to study.
  • Speak to your academic or personal tutor or another member of staff to let them know about your difficulties and to make arrangements about exams or coursework.
  • Talk to your GP – persistent depression does respond to appropriate pharmaceutical interventions and your GP should know about how to access a range of counselling and therapies which can help.
  • Try to resist the temptation to blank things out, or to manage sleep disturbance, by using alcohol, drugs or tobacco. These may provide temporary relief but they do not resolve the depression and they may make things worse.
  • If you have thoughts that you may want to harm yourself, or if you are having ideas about suicide, it’s really important that you speak to someone who can help you. Look at your university resources  or our In a Crisis page for more information.
  • If you feel you do not want to speak to someone within your vet school, you may wish to approach other members of the University community, such as the chaplain or the Student Union Welfare Officer. You can contact Vetlife on 0303 040 2551 or send an anonymous email to Vetlife Helpline by visiting (all emails sent to Helpline are anonymous). The Samaritans also provide free listening , and can be contacted on 116 123 or by e-mail at [email protected].
  • Have a chat with your University-based counselling service – they will have spoken to others dealing with difficulties and depression. Although you may feel alone, it’s a fact that depression is all too common an illness, and seeking help for persistent illnesses will help.
  • Did you have a hobby or a passion that you dropped when you came to University?  Think about getting involved with it again – the rewards of re-engaging with something that you used to find meaningful can be a great antidote.

See also: Self Care and the Students against Depression website

Helping a Friend or Housemate

Are you worried that a friend or housemate may have depression? Depression can distort the way that people think and can lead to their inner world being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings. As a friend, you can help by listening and by trying to help them view their situation in a more balanced way. It can be difficult at times to hear someone speak very negatively about themselves, others or the future when you do not agree with their pessimistic viewpoint. However, it is not helpful to imply that someone experiencing depression should ‘pull themselves together’ or to tell them that they are wrong. Instead, it can be helpful to encourage them to see another, less negative version of events which is more based on reality than their distorted perceptions. Such conversations should be conducted sensitively and you should not feel a failure if you do not manage to sway their point of view.

It can be difficult for someone with depression to ask for help as they often blame themselves for the way they are feeling. They may think they are being lazy or weak or abnormal. The good news is that depression is a condition that often responds well to treatment. You can help by understanding this and helping your friend to understand this. If you can, encourage them to contact their GP, their university counselling service or local NHS mental health services.

People experiencing depression can sometimes be very difficult to be around. They may be irritable, frustrating and rejecting, particularly towards those closest to them. This may be a reflection of how hopeless and helpless they are feeling about themselves. Try not to be put off from continuing your friendship because of this behaviour. However, you do not have to spend so much time with someone who is depressed that you begin to feel upset yourself

Try to encourage them to keep up the activities they enjoyed prior to the depression, particularly exercise and social activities.

Do not encourage them to use alcohol or drugs to relax or forget their problems. These may bring temporary relief but they will not resolve the depression and may make it worse.

You also need to take care of yourself, since supporting a person with depression can be draining. Take time away and do not neglect to enjoy quality time with other friends as well. If you are concerned about someone who is having problems then do not hesitate to contact one of the support services and speak to them about your friend. You can do so in confidence should you want to.

If your friend is talking about suicide, either directly or in vague terms, take it seriously and encourage them to see their GP. If this is not possible, speak to someone else who can intervene. See our In a Crisis page. If necessary, you can always take your friend to the emergency department of your local hospital or to any other medical facility.

“Admitting depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s just about learning new stuff – knowledge and skills.”
Dr Adrian Longstaff, veterinary surgeon and psychotherapist

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