"Right after college I fell into a really deep depression" says Jody, a 24-year old from Boston. "I decided to go out west because I got offered a job I couldn't pass up, but soon after I got there, I became sad and lonely. My job wasn't what I expected it to be and I really started to miss college and all my friends. My life had changed so much and I felt like I didn't have control over it. I still feel pretty lost because I don’t exactly know what I want to do with my life , but I’m hoping that I'll figure that out soon."
Have you ever felt like Jody? Do you know someone who does? If so, then please continue on.
This is the second in a series of entries I will be writing on Post-College Depression, and Jody hits on the three main points we will be exploring today - how a lack of a sense of control over one's life, the tyranny of choice, and high expectations can result in millennials and emerging adults from Generation Y developing post-college depression.
A Generation Plagued by Helplessness?
First, I want to talk about what psychologists call learned helplessness because it is something that can have a pretty big impact on our post-college years.
Learned helplessness is when we learn to act or behave helpless in a particular situation, even when we have the power to change the circumstances that are causing us to feel this way. The reason it is called "learned" is because it is usually brought on by us attempting to correct a bad situation and we fail, or perceive that we have failed, to change the situation.
If this failure keeps happening, we start to believe that the situation is unchangeable and develop feelings of helplessness, which we then learn to use as a filter for perceiving future events in our lives.
Psychologist Martin Seligman, former president of the American
Psychological Association and a professor at the University of
Pennsylvania, was the first to investigate learned helplessness through
a series of experiments in which he used electrical shocks on animals
to test different perceptions of control.
During this line of research, Seligman found, "When shock is inescapable, the dog learns that it is unable to exert control over the shock by means of any of its voluntary behaviors. It expects this to be the case in the future, and this expectation of not being in control causes it to fail to learn in the future." Seligman found that when animals and humans begin feeling this sense of helplessness, they develop symptoms of depression.
Well, graduates today can develop this same kind of learned
helplessness because it is easy to feel like you don’t have control
over important aspects of your life after college. One major cause of this is there
is never a time in life when so many things are in flux.
After graduation, you lose your social network when your friends move all over the country, you most likely move to a new city where you may not know too many people, start a new job with a very different work culture, begin creating a new identity that no longer includes being a student, all while trying figuring out who you are and who you want to become.
This instability of so many aspects of your life can cause you to feel like you don't have control over them and hence, you feel helpless and develop post-college depression.
But this feeling of helplessness is not limited to right after graduation. It also be focused on specific situations throughout your twenties and thirties, such as a feeling like you are not able to find a good job, failure to find someone to call in love with, or not having any idea want to do with your life. Other times it can be more general, such as feeling like you don’t fit into major life roles like worker, lover, or friend.
Because of this perceived instability in your life, you can start forming the belief that your life is uncontrollable and assume that this is how it will be in the future, resulting in post-college depression. And even though you may not actually be helpless in the literal sense, your perception of helplessness can make you believe that you’re unable to effectively cope with the challenges of life as an emerging adult.
In the next post we will discuss how too many choices can result in you developing depression after college. For now, take a look at the Questions to Comment On and share your thoughts and experiences with the community.
Questions to Comment On:
- Are you feeling helpless in your life?
- What do you think triggered you feeling like this?
- What have you been doing to help combat these negative feelings?
- What advice do you have for other people feeling like this?
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