Should I take a semester off from college because of depression?

In this blog post, we will answer the question “should I take a semester off from work because of depression?”. We will briefly discuss what depression is and the causes of depression in college. We will also look at the presenting signs and symptoms that you should take a semester off from college.

Finally, we will look at how to take a semester off college and the importance of taking a semester off college because of depression.

Should I take a semester off from college because of depression?

Yes, ‌take a semester off from college if you have depression. Many students in college are at risk of getting depression because of poor eating habits, lack of sleep, worries about the future and pressure to conform. The rate of suicide among college students is also on the rise because of these issues.

Depression and school

It is important to note that school does not cause depression. However, the environment at school may trigger or worsen the symptoms of students who are already living with depression. The level of stress and availability of help at school are factors that can cause or contribute to depression.

Research from Mental Health America shows that depression is among the top three problems for students. A negative environment at work can cause:

  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increase use of substances and drugs
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Mental and physical health concerns

Signs of depression in college 

The signs of depression in college include:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Having crying spells at school
  • Isolation from people
  • Absenteeism for no apparent reason or leaving your classes early
  • Making too many mistakes
  • Increased physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue
  • Self-medication with drugs
  • Change in the sleeping and eating patterns
  • Persistent feeling of low mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of confidence
  • Procrastination
  • Neglect of hygiene
  • Lack of confidence when studying
  • Feeling tired at all times. You might start napping at your fellow students and friends.

Causes of depression among college‌ students

Worrying about the future

Many college students are unsure about what will happen to them after college. There is uncertainty about life after college and whether they will get jobs and a means of livelihood. Most are afraid of adulting and taking on responsibilities that come when they finish college.

Drugs and substance abuse

Many college students abuse drugs and other substances because they are readily available, due to peer pressure or as a way of self-medication for stress. Drugs are also used for recreational purposes. Some ‌drugs trigger depressive feelings, i.e. sedatives. 

Some deplete their college fund while purchasing drugs and fail exams, and this triggers depression. Some develop tolerance to the drugs and the depression kicks in as a withdrawal symptom of the drugs.

Romantic relationships

Many young people in college relationships are looking for partners they can have a future with while others are exploring and using it as a way of having fun. Cheating in relationships can cause depression. Some relationships are also too demanding and one may not balance classwork and relationships.

There is also the aspect of peer pressure where many college couples idolize other couples or want to present a perfect couple to the public. Conflicts in relationships, i.e. having different opinions and communication, can be a trigger to depression.

Pressure to conform

Peer pressure is high in college, where young people want to become “cool” and keep up with the latest trends. They strive to become like the celebrities they adore. This pressure to conform to values that others conform to causes stress and depression in the long term.

Exams and academic workload

The workload in class can be overwhelming to the brain of a college student. Some have complicated coursework that does not give them breaks to take care of their mental health. A group of other students wait till the exams are near and overwork their brains by studying throughout and depriving themselves of sleep and food ‌to catch up. This is also a major trigger of depression among college students.


Most college students depend on their parents or loans given to students. Some have side jobs that they do on weekends or in the evenings. College students have an expensive lifestyle and the finances they have sometimes are not enough. 

Pressure to succeed

College students have high expectations about performing well. This pressure, combined with that from their parents and teachers, can trigger depression. 

Family problems

It is possible to carry burdens from home to school. Coming from a discordant family can cause strains and a lack of concentration in school. Domestic violence between parents also affects the emotional and psychological well-being of the child.

7 benefits of taking a semester off from college because of depression

Increase productivity

Taking a school break will help you be in a better and healthy mental state to study diligently and with ease. A well-rested mind and body are able to study with no restrictions. Being in a good mood also stimulates hormones that make the body active and alert.

Reduces stress

Being away from a stressful environment will reduce stress levels. This means that going back to a stressful environment (school) will increase stress levels. However, taking breaks in between school helps to break down the cycle of stress that can leave you overwhelmed. It will help you deal with college stress better, as it will not accumulate at levels where it will cause depression.

Help you rest

Rest is a necessity for our bodies to function normally. Rest helps to restore your physical and mental health, therefore helping you study better and efficiently.

Increase creativity

Depression makes us lose interest in studies and also reduces our motivation. A semester break helps you to relax psychologically, hence improving memory and energy. When the stress cycle is broken, the mind rejuvenates and you can have clear thinking.

Helps to maintain school-life balance

Semester breaks help us ‌reconnect with ourselves, friends, and family. They help you meet the demands of your studies and your personal demands.

Improve your physical health

Stress and depression cause physical illnesses like fatigue, severe migraines, eating and sleeping disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Taking semester breaks not only helps you psychologically, but also boosts your physical health. Your brain is the control centre of all the body activities and when it is tired, all other parts are also affected.

Makes studying fun and effective

Taking semester breaks helps you go to college content. This improves your mood and interaction with your peers. A positive mindset when studying helps you get confident and fulfilled with the work that you are doing.

How to take a semester off from college because of depression

If you want to take a semester off from college because of depression:

  • Speak to your advisor at the college career centre or to your dean and explain why you need the semester off
  • Learn about your financial aid options, i.e., how the semester off might affect your scholarships or loans. Talk to a financial advisor at the school and know your options.
  • Have a plan in place, but be flexible.
  • Decide if you want to stay in your current college or transfer to another one
  • Get a part-time or full-time job when you are away to keep yourself busy
  • Write ‌your ‘return’ plan

What we recommend for depression


The most common treatment for depression is medication. Your psychiatrist might prescribe some antidepressants which will help boost your mood and reduce the frequency of your symptoms. Note that medication MUST be prescribed by a professional health practitioner: they are not over-the-counter medication.

Psychodynamic therapy

A conversation with a therapist will help you gain awareness of depression, its causes, and triggers. s/he will also help you find positive coping strategies for depression. The method is very effective when combined with pharmacotherapy (medication).

Interpersonal therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is client-focused, while interpersonal therapy includes other people in your life. It can be done as marriage therapy or family therapy. This ensures that you have a strong support system around you that does not trigger depression.

This counseling directory will link you with professional therapists to help treat depression. 

Lifestyle changes to treat depression


Just like antidepressants, exercises trigger the production of the feel-good hormones that improve mood. You don’t need to go to the gym and do strenuous activities. 30 minutes of simple workouts daily are sufficient.

Healthy diet

Eating well is not only important for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. Small, well-balanced meals reduce mood swings and keep your energy levels up.

Adequate sleep

A good night’s sleep eases sadness, irritability, fatigue, and mood swings. Make sure that you get 7-9 hours of sleep daily.

Social support

Keep regular contact with friends and family and join classes that will require you to interact and socialize. This will keep loneliness and isolation away, which is a major trigger for depression.


We have briefly defined what depression is, the relationship between depression and college, the major causes of depression in college, the signs and symptoms to look out for and how to take a semester off from college. Finally, we have discussed the treatment options for depression and the lifestyle changes necessary for managing and treating depression.

Please feel free to ask questions or comment in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: taking a semester off from college because of depression

How does depression affect college?

Depression causes loss of interest in activities,i.e. Games or clubs, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, difficulty concentrating in class, isolation from others and having crying spells when in school.

Does depression affect my academic performance?

Yes, depression affects all areas of your life, including physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Students with depression are at a high risk of performing poorly or losing interest completely in their studies.

What is the leading cause of depression among college students?

Financial problems, family problems, lack of enough sleep, not exercising and family problems.

What percentage of students have mental health issues?

Research done in the past year shows that at least 50% of students have psychiatric disorders. It also shows that 73% of the total population experiences mental problems during their stay in college.


University of the People, Thinking About Taking a Semester Off? What You Need to Know. retrieved from

Shaffer M., (January 22, 2022). Want to take a semester off in college? Consider this first. Retrieved from

Glass E.A., The College Mental Health Crisis: A Call for Cultural Change – Part 2. Retrieved from 

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