The term depression is used casually when describing moments of sadness. However, the true meaning of the word goes beyond a short period of unhappiness. This mood of melancholy is prolonged and generally, disrupts daily life.
"I slept a lot, and I lost interest in everything. Sometimes, I cried for no real reason at all,” said mass communication major, Shaniqua Mckinzie, who suffered from depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health describes depression in three forms: major depression, dysthymia, and bi – polar disorder. Major depression has a combination of symptoms. One of the most noticeable signs is the feeling of emptiness. Other warning signs are fatigue, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, suicidal thoughts, irritability, excessive crying, difficulty concentrating, unexplained physical complaints, and feelings of worthlessness.
Dysthymia, a less intense form of depression, involves the same symptoms as major depression, though not as severe. A person with this condition is capable of functioning yet may be unable to perform tasks to his or her full ability. He or she may also complain of simply not feeling well.
The third most common form of depression is bi – polar disorder, or manic – depression. Sufferers tend to alternate between extreme bouts of depression and cycles of tremendous levels of energy, called mania.
There are several factors that cause depression in college students. Mckinzie said that academics contributed to her depression. “There is a lot of pressure to do well in our classes. The large number of assignments and high expectations can wear a person down.”
Another major cause of depression in these students is adjusting to a new environment. “Living on your own is a primary reason students get depressed,” said Hazel Moran, Program Director of Children and Families at the National Mental Health Association. “Two things contribute to this. First, most of the students have unfamiliar living arrangements. Also, they have to adjust to new people in their lives, as well as, new responsibilities.”
According to the NIMH, one of these new duties is financial obligations. “Money issues greatly contribute to depression,” said Moran.
The NIMH states that exposure to different ideas and temptations, awareness of sexual orientation and identity, and preparation of life after graduating are also common reasons students in higher education are likely to suffer from some form of depression.
Generally regarded as a taboo topic, the disease is extremely common. This condition affects over 19 million Americans, including 10 percent of students according to www.nhma.com. “A feeling of being overwhelmed is one of the first signs of the possible onset of depression,” said Moran. “More than 75 percent of students say that at some point they feel overwhelmed and become anxious. Out of the 75 percent of students, 22 percent of them are unable to function because they have now developed depression,” she said.
Because of the stigma associated with depression, some students opt not to seek professional help. Instead, they choose to self – medicate. “I found myself drinking everyday. It made me feel more relaxed and less tense about the day,” said Mckinzie.
However, she is not alone. “Most depressed students drink alcohol to alleviate their pain,” said Moran.
The NMHA says that there is a link between alcohol abuse and depression. Symptoms of depressive illness including, loss of interest in activities, talkativeness, moodiness and a lackadaisical attitude can all result from excessive alcohol intake.
Alcohol is a depressant; it relaxes the mind and lowers the inhibitions causing the depressed student to act in ways that he or she would not if that person was sober. According to the NMHA, approximately 70 percent of college students engage in sexual activity as a result of being inebriated. “Behaving in this manner when the student is drunk helps him or her forget about the problem,” said Moran.
One depressed college student may use alcohol to ease his or her troubles. However, there are those who believe that there is only one method to guarantee an end to their misery. Suicide is the second leading killer in the college population. It is often linked to untreated clinical depression .
Students can display suicidal tendencies either through behavioral changes or physical changes according to the NHMA. Along with symptoms listed for major depression, other warning signs include openly speaking about suicide, indirectly talking about “ending it all,” taking unnecessary risks, and giving away personal possessions according to the NHMA.
Some college students do not view alcohol or death as options when dealing with stressful situations.
Business management major, Tamika Fraser chooses to face problems head – on. “Alcohol will not erase the problem because once you are sober again, the problem is still there,” she said. “I notice that one good way to solve a school – related problem is to avoid procrastination.”
According to the NIMH, this is a clever way to lessen negative stressors in one’s life. Planning better use of a person’s time, planning work and sleep schedules, and taking time for oneself are other suggestions the NIMH makes.
They also suggest making a friend. Mckinzie agrees with this tactic wholeheartedly. “It is so important to have someone to talk to because a person should never keep things bottled up inside of them.”
Moran said that talking to another person is highly recommended. “Usually, we refer students to counselors or someone they trust,” she said.
Suicidal threats are always to be taken seriously. Suicide is associated with psychopathological disorder and should not be viewed as a philosophical choice about life or death stated in edition 13 of the book. Suggestions for helping a friend who is contemplating suicide begin with the person being open about his or her concern for the friend according to the NHMA. Next, contact the university counseling center, student health center, or local mental health association. Listen and offer emotional support. The next step is to assure the friend that suicidal feelings are real and preventable. Finally, offer to accompany the person to a counselor.
Depression is a serious illness, but it can be successfully treated. The NIMH says that 80 percent of people suffering with the condition get better, but people must seek help. The first step in defeating the disease is recognizing it according to the NHMA. Depression does not cure itself.
For information about suicide, depression, or substance abuse, contact the NMHA at www.nhma.com, the NIMH at www.nima.nih.gov, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at www.ncadd.org or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.asfp.org.