Depression is a change in mood marked by a deep sense of sadness. We have all heard someone say that they feel depressed. Most people, including college students, feel sad or blue at some time in their lives. These feelings usually last for a limited time and, while painful at the time, cause little disruption in everyday life. In depressive disorders, the change in mood is considerable and long-lasting and although the person usually copes and continues to function, daily life can be disrupted.
Depression affects mood or emotions, thoughts, physical well-being, and behavior. Depression has a variety of emotional symptoms, including feelings of loneliness, helplessness, worthlessness, and an increased sense of guilt or shame. Disruptions in thoughts may include negative self-thoughts, negative thoughts about the future, difficulty in concentrating and making decisions, and a decrease or loss of interest in goals and aspirations.
The most common disruption in physical functioning is a large decrease or increase in appetite. Sleep disruptions, drop in energy level, isolation, and physical complaints such as aches and gastrointestinal problems are also common. Common behavioral difficulties include tearfulness (or, on the other hand, lack of emotional responsiveness), slowed physical movements, lower school performance, and increases in drug and alcohol use.
In general, depression is caused by physical or psychological stress. Sources of stress may include environmental, personality or physical factors. Understanding the underlying cause of depression is usually necessary to learn how to cope. When the cause is apparent, as in the case of a known loss such as the death of a loved one, the reaction will often subside over time. But, even with a known cause, if it is pervasive and unchanging, as when someone is living in poverty or feeling unwanted in their community, depression will often persist. And when the cause is not obvious, it is more difficult to understand what one is going through and the symptoms are likely to worsen without treatment.
For more information about depression amongst college students, please view The View from Here, created by The University of Michigan.
If you have mild symptoms of depression, here's what you can do to help yourself:
- First, try to figure out what is really bothering you. Is it school pressures, your social life, relationships with family and friends?
- Change your routine. Try to become more involved. Force yourself to do something new.
- Increase your exercise, and get proper nutrition and sleep.
- Recognize your need to take care of yourself. Avoid over-committing or putting yourself in a position where you feel trapped.
There are also things that you can do to help a friend:
- Listen. Avoid criticizing.
- Do not tell your friend to "cheer up"— their feelings cannot be controlled in this way.
- Don't tell him/her that you feel the same way—this feels minimizing to a person who is depressed.
- Encourage your friend to do the things mentioned earlier, such as getting involved and getting proper sleep and exercise.
- Encourage him/her to seek help. Talk with them openly about whether they are considering suicide.
If you would like to talk with a counselor, call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment. If you are experiencing a psychological emergency, please call one of our emergency contacts immediately.