Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health concerns faced by college students. Whether experienced as an occasional episode or an ongoing challenge, many students will struggle with some variation of depression and/or anxiety while at Cornell.

Adjustment issues, academic stress, relationship conflicts, financial pressures, and loneliness are all common factors that can make college life challenging. This is especially true for students who are away from home for the first time and dealing with new and unique stressors.

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Everyone gets sad at times of loss, adjustment, or disappointment.

But prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair can be a sign of depression. Depression can also be expressed as apathy, disinterest, or an inability to feel anything. Other common symptoms include problems with sleep, appetite, concentration, motivation, and social withdrawal.

When these symptoms begin to interfere with health, social and academic functioning, and enjoyment of life, you should seek support. Some people feel better after a single conversation with a friend, or an objective listener (learn about our walk-in “Let’s Talk” service). Others benefit from longer term counseling, support group participation, or medication (visit our Mental Health Care page).

Depression can distort your perspective and make things seem worse than they truly are – or make you believe that you’ll never feel good again. Severely depressed people may even have thoughts of suicide. But in actuality, depression is a highly treatable condition with excellent recovery rates. Remember that it is a sign of strength and intelligence to ask for help if you need it.


Anxiety – as a temporary worry or fear associated with a problem or challenge that feels overwhelming, such as a big exam – is a normal part of life. It can take many forms, such as jitteriness, nervousness, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or perspiration. Symptoms of prolonged anxiety can include difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, increased “emotional eating,” insomnia, and social isolation. 

In small doses, mild anxiety can be motivating. But anxiety becomes problematic when it starts to interfere with the ability to carry out daily tasks, pursue your goals, and connect with other people.

Sometimes anxiety is expressed through irrational fears or specific phobias (such as fear of elevators, heights, spiders, etc.). Other expressions include uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, compulsive, ritualized behaviors, and panic attacks.

Many people learn to manage stress and build resilience through self-awareness, self-care, meditation, or relaxation techniques. Others benefit from counseling.

If you find that anxiety is affecting your quality of life, we encourage you to schedule a counseling appointment or stop by to speak with a "Let’s Talk counselor" (visit our Mental Health Care page). A counselor can help you identify stressors and thought patterns that worsen your anxiety, and help you learn to mitigate your body’s response through behavioral therapy, relaxation, and other techniques. Sometimes, medication is prescribed to help individuals manage symptoms.

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If you’re struggling, help is available.

The good news is that depression and anxiety are both highly treatable. Please talk to a friend, or reach out for support. There are many people and resources on campus who are here for you.