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 this way at some time in their lives. Feeling sad or blue is the common type of depression. These feelings are usually of limited duration and, while painful at the time, cause little disruption in everyday life. In depressive disorders, these symptoms are more serious. The change in mood is considerable and long-lasting. Daily life can be disrupted. The person usually copes and continues to function but the feelings are serious.
Depression affects mood or emotions, thoughts, physical well-being, and behavior. Depression has a variety of emotional symptoms. The most common is the lack of ability to stop feeling sad and hopeless for an extended period of time. Other symptoms include feelings of loneliness, isolation, helplessness, frustration, unloveablity, worthlessness, or an increased sense of guilt or shame. Disruptions in thoughts may include negative self-thoughts, like "I'm a jerk" or "I can't do anything right" or negative thoughts about the future, like "Nothing will make a difference" or "It's no use." Other thought disruptions might include 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 change in appetite—a decrease or the other extreme of increased appetite. Sleep disturbances are also common and may include difficulty falling asleep or waking up, early morning waking, or increased or decreased sleep. There is often a drop in energy level and interest in physical activity. The person may not go out much or may not meet responsibilities such as going to class. Physical or somatic complaints may include headache, backache, and gastrointestinal problems such as dry mouth, constipation, or diarrhea.
Behavior may include tearfulness and/or crying spells, or the other extreme of lack of emotional responsiveness. Things that used to be fun and interesting may lose their appeal. Physical movements may be slow; the person may mope around. School performance may become poor. There may be an increase in drug and alcohol use to escape. More severe disruptions include interruptions in all usual activities including eating, dressing, bathing, attending school and seeing friends.
In general, what we see as depression is caused by physical or psychological stress. Sources of stress may include environmental, personality or physical factors. We need to understand the underlying cause 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 then treatment is called for. And certainly also, when the cause is not obvious, it's more difficult to understand what one is going through and the symptoms are likely to worsen without treatment. Physical factors may include biochemical imbalances brought on by illness, poor diet and nutrition, infections, lack of exercise, and substance use, including prescription drugs and alcohol. Contrary to the notion that alcohol provides a pick me up, alcohol use always worsens depressive symptoms.
For more information about depression amongst college students, please view the following video created by The University of Michigan: http://www.depressioncenter.org/video/TheViewFromHere/.
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. 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.
Depression does not go away by itself. When these measures do not help or when depression is more severe, you need to seek professional help. Seek help immediately when there is more pain than pleasure in your life, when depression is affecting social life, intimate relationships, or school performance, or when suicide is considered a viable alternative.
Depression should not be taken lightly, but it is treatable.
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.