07/17/2012 12:12 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2012

Recent College Grads: From Frustration to Clinical Depression

As recent college graduates head back home from campus they are finding a historically tough economy, chronically weak job market, and emotional pressures with which recent generations never had to contend.

Reverting to a life with mom and dad after years of relative freedom in a dorm setting or off-campus housing can sometimes create friction between graduates and parents. With reduced job prospects limiting the ability to move out, possible long-term adjustments must now be made to having far less autonomy, meeting parental expectations to regularly report in, and being more attentive to the wishes of others. This can certainly represent a difficult transition after four or more years of growing independence.

Also, with college debt burdens at unprecedented levels, many graduates are finding their career paths and future education ambitions to be either temporarily blocked, or quite possibly, permanently altered. Facing these persistent financial challenges coupled with the realization that some career plans could be out of reach for the time being, can create immediate pressure to suddenly reimagine some deeply held aspirations. These challenges will be a source of anxiety and tension for graduates and their families.

These stresses are very real and can directly impact the ways in which a recent graduate begins to view personal value and self-worth. Frustrated by a lack of control and watching once planned opportunities not come to fruition can be a very tough thing to experience. Left unchecked, a growing sense of powerlessness, despair and emotional frustration can lead to clinical depression.

Parents, friends and loved ones should stay attuned to and remain vigilant for the following symptoms, particularly in an unemployed and/or financially stressed graduate: persistently low mood and negative outlook, an inability to concentrate, a decrease in self-care and personal appearance, not getting out of bed and constantly oversleeping or consistently poor sleep, a sense of hopelessness and comments about life not being worth living, and a noticeable increase in drinking and substance use.

If the person you once knew appears changed in any significant way, it's time to intervene. If you suspect a recent college graduate might be showing these symptoms you should have an open conversation sharing your concerns. Offer your observations in a nonjudgmental manner and contrast with how the graduate normally behaves. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could then be followed up with an appointment with a professional counselor or even with the family's primary care physician.

An important item for graduates to remember is that just because job offers are not forthcoming and open positions are hard to come by, this does not prevent you from maintaining a positive state of mind by building a daily routine. Two valuable and important activities to engage in are some kind of volunteer work in the local community and regular physical exercise. Both will offer positive and dependable outlets for you during these down times and can also provide a sense of accomplishment in a number of unexpected ways.

Performing these daily activities can also offer new opportunities for graduates to network with others. Seeking new and creative ways to network must also be considered a primary goal. Be creative in seeking potential professional connections, be prepared to take risks, and try some inventive ways to initiate contact with others. Above all, refuse to be passive and learn to minimize the fear of possible rejections.

Social and work connections are essential for everyone to help maintain positive emotional and mental health. Even though college classmates and friends might no longer be part of your daily support system and there are limited opportunities to join a workplace, this should not stop graduates from growing their own connections in a post-college world. This could very well be the key to an even brighter future that you had never planned. But if you or someone you know is struggling, please make certain to seek out the help and support you need in order to feel better and to stay safe.