How to look after your mental health when you’ve graduated and your life goes a little off plan

Post-graduate depression is a real thing


Finishing university is bittersweet. You have the high moments; finishing your exams, submitting your dissertation and getting the compulsory picture of you power posing in the main quad.

But you also have lows. You’re disassembling the life you have had for the last three years along with that wretched Ikea lamp your Mum bought you.

Throughout uni the path is clear; get a good degree and then get a good job. But what happens when reality strikes and it doesn't all go according to plan?

What is post-graduate depression?

Post-graduate depression is not a new discovery, there are many articles online discussing its damages, however it needs to be talked about more in everyday life.

A study conducted by YouGov in 2016 stated that one in four students suffer from a mental health problem, with a whopping 77 percent of them stating they suffer from depression.

According to experts and online forums, symptoms include massively decreased motivation, abnormally negative perspective, spending excessive amounts of time in bed, a sense of hopelessness and in some cases, substance abuse.

These symptoms are triggered by a dramatic change of environment, like moving back home. Which can lead to loneliness through losing the close-knit community you had at uni. Not to mention the stresses of unemployment and the expectation to do well.

Summer

After moving back in to my childhood bedroom I wasted no time in getting my head down and began my job hunt.

Armed with a newly adopted gravitas demeanour, a CV full of adjectives that portrayed my skills, and a £30,000 piece of paper, I put on my big-girl-knickers and hastily entered the scramble to find a graduate position.

It was a disaster.

I had hoped to secure something by the beginning of July so I wouldn’t have to go back to the job I had before uni at the local pub. But all I’d acquired were an inbox full of rejections and a serious confidence knock.

On one occasion, I was so desperate that I applied for a marketing job at a cannabis factory in Canada. I wrote a haiku about the benefits of weed and submitted it as my application. It’s safe to say I did not get the job.

Autumn

It was starting to hit me, I’d worked my socks off all to be back at the place I started.

I was living back at home with my Mum, pouring pints and listening to Dave, a local at the pub, talk about how Brexit will be great for the economy.

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Shut up, Dave.

To say this snippet of my life was unsettling is an understatement. I had felt that special type of euphoria only achieved by finishing university, only for it to come crashing down in a matter of weeks.

I bitterly watched (via my iPhone, of course) as ex-course mates went on to bigger and better things.

They were granted scholarships for further education; others moved abroad; and those more laissez-faire about their career choices, went on pilgrimages to South-East Asia to find themselves (a.k.a. “travelling” a.k.a. powerful hallucinogens).

Me? My bleak reality consisted of stealing packets of crisps from behind the bar and scoffing them in the loo. Dark times.

This is when the post-graduate depression really showed me the damage it could do. I'd lost the motivation to keep applying for jobs and was rarely leaving my bed. On the rare days I found I had the energy, my confidence was too low to give any a go.

I consistently tried to avoid people and would ignore any messages on my phone. Sometimes I would agree to social events and flake out last minute because I physically couldn’t get out of bed.

I found myself serving old schoolmates and listening to them tell how they'd gotten onto grad schemes whilst I pulled their pints. Soul destroying.

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It's not easy

How do you access help if you’re clueless and embarrassed?

I didn’t know how to access help when my world came tumbling down.

Mid-shift at the pub a panic attack struck and a friend had to come and rescue me. She gave me the helpline number for Mind, the mental health charity.

Mind offer therapy at a discounted rate in certain regions in the UK. They also have a much shorter wait list than the NHS, which is a handy alternative if you’re seeking urgent help.

I called the helpline in the midst of a black hole and explained my mental ailments. I received a consultation appointment within the same week where I spoke more in-depth to a counsellor about what was wrong.

With Mind, you’re charged based on your employment status. Sessions range from £10 to £25, which is awesome if you haven’t snagged that graduate job yet.

This was quite literally a god send. If you’re struggling with funds and are seeking help, this is a great place to start: Mind.org.uk

Cutting down on social media can do you good

One of the biggest contributions to the demise of my mental health was social media.

I'd gotten into the habit of comparing my perceived failure to my peers perceived successes via their social media feeds.

My reality of covertly eating crisps in pub toilets didn’t stand a chance against filtered pictures of ex-course mates drinking G&Ts at their desks on a Friday.

Techniques I found that helped me manage my mental health were; cutting down on social media (dog Instagram accounts being the exception), regular exercise (ugh, but endorphins save lives), and channelling it into something like writing or painting.

It's normal when everything's changing so much

This is a time of transition, everything is changing, and it’s important to give yourself a chance to enjoy it.

You don’t have to go straight into a Masters program or find your lifetime career straight after university. Some people get married at 18 and get their degree at 40.

Life is different for everyone, we’re all going at our own pace and we don’t necessarily have to adhere to one structure.

You can switch it up, and we all should, after all, that’s what makes a great story.

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Hang in there, we've got this.