How do you make friends in college when you're depressed?

This week in the Coping newsletter: mental illness among college students, medical privacy in therapy, and that age-old question about how to make friends when you're depressed.
January 6, 2019, 9:52pm
Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia

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Welcome to Coping, Episode Seventeen.

Many people go to college between 18 and 22 years old—a timeframe that just so happens to coincide with the onset of most major psychological illnesses. Studies and surveys show that mental health issues among college students are increasing; a study from this year found that one in three college freshman had symptoms of a diagnosable mental health disorder. One contributing factor, aside from genetics, is that it’s a period of change and stress in a young person’s life.

Luckily, nearly every university and college these days will have some kind of counseling center or network. But just because your school has therapists, there can still be barriers to access, or feelings of uncertainty about when to go. Here's a guide with insight from experts on how to use your school's mental services and when.

Ask the therapist

Q: How do you make friends in college when you're depressed?

A: It's a bit of a conundrum: Depression can cause you to isolate yourself and yet also crave social interaction. Connecting socially doesn't come easily when you're feeling down. It's important to start by seeking out therapy at the campus counseling center, which is often free for students. A therapist can help you create a tailored treatment plan to overcome your depression. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Ask for help, even if you don't feel like talking. Maybe you have a close friend you can confide in, or perhaps there's a local support group for people who are dealing with mood disorders. Finding the support from others can be critical, even if (especially if!) you just feel like being alone.

  • Join a group. Not only can joining a club or organization help give you sense of purpose, it’s also a great way to meet people with common interests. In my sophomore year of undergrad, I found myself feeling lost and without purpose. One day, I saw a recruitment poster with a few young women I had enjoyed spending time with when we had volunteered together. I joined a sorority and it was the best decision I could have made at that time. I made friends and had a purpose to work for through volunteering and other committees.

  • Go easy on yourself. Know that you may not always want to leave your dorm, and you don’t have to all the time. Make sure to talk about this with your therapist, as the two of you can come up with a plan for how long you can stay in and when you should push yourself to get out. There may also be times that the friendships you were hoping to cultivate don't work out, and that's okay too. It's not your fault; don’t let your depression tell you otherwise.


If you have had thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

This week's answer is from Rachel Aredia, a therapist and ADAA member.

Related stories:

  • Here's a guide to getting mental health help on campus.

  • Know your rights: Sometimes college students don't have the same medical privacy as other people.

Are you a college student who would like to report on mental health issues on campus? Apply for the VICE Fellowship for Collegiate Reporting here.

The VICE Fellowship for Collegiate Reporting is a program that connects the VICE digital newsroom with college journalists to publish content on a focused topic. Through dedicated mentoring and editing from the VICE staff, college journalists will have the resources to tackle on-the-ground reporting. The stories, which may be in any format, will be dual-published by VICE and a college outlet, if the journalist is associated with one. For its inaugural semester, the VFCR will focus on mental health.

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