Why College Students Are Getting Depressed

I forget where I heard this idea, but I read once that the three basic human needs are:

  1. Sense of autonomy
  2. Sense of competence
  3. Sense of relatedness

I'm going to apply this understanding to my theory to why I see so many depressed college students. Now you may have a different lived experience with college where it was awesome for you, but I notice this a lot in friends.

College Makes Us Feel Powerless (Autonomy)

"You'll have so much choice" -- a common phrase they tell us in high school when we they talk about how college is going to be so much better than high school.

They fail to mention the mandatory GE's, or that you will hate 4/5 of your professors but have to finish their course anyways, or that you will not be able to study abroad if you want to "graduate on time".

We feel pulled on our strings from all directions because often we're taking 4-5 classes that don't collectively respect our time. Every instructor is demanding something of us at all points of time and no one is giving us the choice to just say no to any of it, less we sacrifice the degree we desire. The feeling of powerlessness consumes us for four years, to the point where it's funny to say "I'll just suck it up for 4 years".

College Makes Us Feel Incompetent (Competence)

How often have you been in a class that moves forward too fast. The teachers often rush through material to stay "on-track" with the syllabus.

The social pressure of asking a question in class is too overwhelming -- we don't want to be the kid that is slowing the rest of the class down. And we also don't want to look stupid. So we question whether we're smart or dumb whenever we don't understand a concept in class and NO ONE asks any questions. Is it because they all understand it? Or because everyone is just like me and doesn't want to sound dumb?

We spend so much time theorizing on material for years, but never are given the opportunity to apply what we've learned in class in the real world.

This causes a certain thought process that goes like this: "what the hell is the point of this if we're not going to use it?" When asked what you're studying in school to family members, you have a hard time explaining what it is because you can't see the point of what knowing that information does for your life.

Even at the end of 4 years of this schooling, we never feel good enough for that first real job, especially if we never had any internships.

College Makes Us Lose Ourselves (Relatedness)

In a place where it's so easy to be constantly around friends, we start to lose a sense of self. Who are we really, when we are so surrounded all of the time by people who alter our behaviors?

If you feel lonely on a campus, no matter how many groups you're a part of, you feel extremely isolated. Like you can't relate to anyone while everyone else has their fun cliques on spring break, taking weekend trips, etc.

In competitive schools, people screw each other over for grade points like it's some valuable currency. Like it'll make them better to bring others down. But it won't.

At some point, you might start to see yourself as a number. Because you're stuck in such a bubble, you'll start to think stupid thoughts like: "employers only care about my GPA" or "my sense of self-worth is based on my GPA" or other unhealthy spirals of thought.

Self-value can be confusing in college, especially when you have lack of competence and lack of autonomy.

Final Thoughts

Those are some of my theories when it comes to my theory on the correlation between college and depression. Because these basic human needs aren't being met, we have real problems with the way our education system is being run.

What do you think? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below!