Depression a Concern In Light of Current Events

A recent national college health study by the National Mental Health Association shows that depression affects 19 million Americans each year. Ten percent of these are college students.

Depression is more prevalent on our college campuses than ever before, with the disturbing and traumatic images of September 11 displayed every day on television. In addition, college students face very prevalent stressors on campus, including academic pressure, substance abuse, financial troubles, homesickness, peer pressure, fatigue and loneliness. All of these make students susceptible to depression.

Symptoms of depression include: a loss of interest in pleasurable activities; a low energy level; indecisiveness and lack of concentration; gain or loss of weight; feelings of guilt, pessimism, and/or hopelessness; enduring sadness, and too little or too much sleeping.

Depression is divided into three causal types: (1) Clinical, (2) Reactive, and (3) Belief System related. Clinical depression may be genetic or biological in nature, and is usually triggered by an internal chemical imbalance. Treatment often includes use of an antidepressant medication such as Welbutrin, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of the two. People with clinical depression may need long-term or lifelong treatment.

Reactive depression, created by loss, morbid or pathological grief, a major adjustment (such as starting or changing schools), and separation, can be treated by recognizing and expressing the feelings of sadness that accompany grief and loss. Depression related to one’s belief system (sometimes called “stinkin’ thinkin'”) results from our attitudes, relationship-styles, values, coping skills, and emotional maturity. Ingrained thought patterns (“shoulds,” “musts,” “minimizing,” and “awfulizing”) can cause unrealistic expectations or negative exaggerations, which in turn trigger disappointment, despair and hopelessness, adding additional and recurrent stressors to an already stressful life. This type of depression is treated by attending self-help groups and/or professional psychotherapy (such as with a social worker or psychologist).

Myths and distortions about depression are prevalent: Depression is the result of some weakness in willpower, moral character, or personality defect; depression is all in your head; you need an attitude adjustment; just think positive; you’re just mentally lazy; and depression is always easily fixed.

The prevalence of some very effective antidepressants often encourages people to seek medication from their family doctor, a practice which has doubtless saved lives and helped millions. However, many of these people never understand the factors that caused the depression in the first place, leaving them susceptible to recurrent depression.

Students with undiagnosed depression often self-medicate with alcohol and/or illicit drugs, which will often lead to feelings of shame, as well as academic, legal, financial, and medical problems. Denial of depression causes a worsening of symptoms over time, and has significant negative consequences if left untreated. Depression may lead to suicidal ideation and suicide. The National Mental Health Association found that, in 1998, suicide accounted for one-third of deaths among people aged 15-24, and was the second leading cause of death of college students. The combination of depression and alcohol/drug use places people at a higher risk for suicide.

If the traumatic images of terror, academic stress, or other factors cause symptoms of depression in a friend, loved one, study partner or roommate, please give them your care and support by urging them to talk to a professional. You may save a life by being alert to the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and others, and by remembering that depression is treatable.

To make an on-campus appointment for help with depression, call or go to Counseling and Psychological Services in the Scott Building. If that feels uncomfortable, make an appointment with a local agency such as Smoky Mountain Counseling Center in Sylva (586-9281).

Avoid isolating yourself. Talk to, e-mail, or call someone! Don’t let depression terrorize you