I am a sophomore in college, and I think I may be suffering from chronic depression. I perceive that I do not have any friends, or as many as I feel I need, or want, or should have. I spend much of my time alone in my room, or walking around campus alone, or eating alone. It is fairly typical for me to find myself holed up in my room on a Friday or Saturday evening, even though I hope and wish for something to do, for someone to call.
I find it extremely difficult to talk to people or to make new friends, and as a result, I imagine that people do not like me. This leads to feelings of self-loathing, low self-esteem, and a need for acceptance. I no longer have much interest in doing anything, I have no real enthusiasm for life, I can't sleep at night, and I often have violent nightmares. I want to change, and people offer me advice like, "Go out and meet people!", "Have courage!", or "Join a club!" I would like to do all of these things, but I feel that my problems are intrinsic, and I don't believe that I can change my personality. Do you have any relief for me?
One in the City of Eight Million Souls
Dear One in the City of Eight Million Souls,
For many students, college can be an emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt, loneliness, anxiety, or depression. With some support and exploration, there may be some ways you can begin to feel less alone. You could also think about in what ways you seek out relationships and if there are other ways you may be able to find friends that wouldn't rely on personality changes. First, you might think about carving out some time to reflect on when you started to feel the way you do. Thinking about what might be causing your nightmares, and how you can reconnect with people and your own interests is a worthy — perhaps essential — use of your time.
Just about everyone goes through times of feeling sad, lonely, and even dejected at some point in their life. After a while, the exciting newness of college may wear off, and many students feel stress and pressure to be connected socially, while still focusing on their academic goals. Feeling isolated and depressed might make it seem nearly impossible to build relationships with others or to enjoy what previously brought you pleasure. Some of the feelings you described are often the most common reasons people seek professional counseling. You may consider talking with a skilled and caring person, such a mental health professional, as this may help you to identify the underlying reasons for your feelings. Speaking with them may also help you develop coping mechanisms so that you may be more able to reach out to people, sleep better, and turn what are now only wishes into realistic, attainable goals.
When it comes to building up your network of friends and social support, your peers' advice to join a club or meet new people probably comes from a well-meaning place. But, such big social leaps like those can feel overwhelming. You may want to spend some time thinking about what you like and what some of those activities are that you'd like to do with others. Perhaps you can start with smaller steps, such as sending an acquaintance a quick text message just to say "hi" every so often or practicing your conversational skills with trusted family members before branching out to others. Reaching out in small ways could build your social comfort and confidence, which may, in turn, help you feel less lonely.
Because many students feel depressed, stressed, or lonely at points during college, most campuses have a wealth of resources available. For starters, you may want to reach out to your college's health or wellness center. The professionals at those offices typically have experience working with students who have feelings and experiences similar to your own. Your campus counseling services could work with you on any mental health concerns you have (whether you have a diagnosis or not), may provide you with referrals for on-going therapy, and might assess whether medication would help. In fact, your campus may even have support groups available, if you're interested in working through some of your feelings with a group of supportive and like-minded peers.
If you don't feel quite ready to reach out to a mental health professional just yet, it may still be worth chatting with a relative, old friend, dean, program coordinator, health promotion specialist, resident advisor (RA), professor, or clergy member about how you're feeling. There are also a number of ways you might be able to take action on your own to combat feelings of loneliness or depression, such as engaging in physical activity, avoiding alcohol and drugs if they make you feel worse, or setting small daily goals for yourself. When you're ready, reaching out to others for guidance, support, or just a listening ear can make all the difference.
It might sound cliché, but there are many college students and other people who feel as you do. Through some extra effort and support, you may begin to discover the gifts you have to offer and you can build up confidence to reach out to make connections with other people. It typically doesn't happen overnight, but you may find that over time, you may be able to develop healthy coping skills and boost enthusiasm for life.