Depression During Life Transitions

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It's okay to feel depressed after a big change in your life.

Maybe there is a new marriage or baby that is about to affect your family, or a move up to a bigger and better job. These are all things that are supposed to make us happy and give us fulfillment, right? Well, it turns out that any transition can be difficult for people. There are people who are comfortable with change and do not miss a beat when there is a shift in the routine, however, those people are few and far between. Although it is the norm to experience some challenges during times of transition, we rarely talk about it. It is expected that we handle these times with ease and look forward to the new challenge. Although that may be a part of what someone feels in these situations, there are often other feelings that go along with change as well.

Depression is a very common emotion felt during any normal life transition. It is expected to feel some depression after a death or job loss, but is it after a new marriage? It can take people by surprise. How would you feel if your partner admitted to feeling depressed after marrying you? It is common for people to not understand what they are feeling because they simply do not associate depression with transition. Depression is not necessarily feeling sad or being unable to get out of bed and function, although those can be part of the symptoms. The most common symptoms of depression are a lack of motivation, a loss of interest in things that one normally enjoys, a feeling of melancholy and social isolation. I often hear clients say, "I am just not happy and I don’t know why."

Generally the first significant life transition that we make is from high school into college. Although this is an exciting time, it is also an extremely stressful time. When I specialized in adolescents, my practice was frequently full of high school seniors and college freshmen. The seniors are overwhelmed with the prospect of how to make the college decision. Once they get accepted, the sadness of leaving their friends and family settled in. It is common to hear people talk about how wonderful senior year is but I have not seen that very often. I think maybe it is in hindsight that we romanticize senior year but I have seen overwhelming depression from a profound number of seniors.

Then the transition comes and they are in college and there is all the excitement of the newfound freedom, except who is there to hold them to task? How are they going to organize themselves for fun and hard work? There is no routine and everything that was familiar is now gone. It is far less common for me to see college sophomores because they have become accustom to college life and the depression from the transition subsides. Then I see people becoming depressed again around senior year of college. What do they do now that they have their degree? How do they seek a job? If they are one of the lucky ones and are able to secure a good job out of college, they now have to figure out how to budget, where to live, how to make friends outside of school, say goodbye to the college friends they have made and again leave everything that is familiar. It is a big transition that often causes depression in people.

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