Counseling & Wellness Center

Depression

From time to time students may experience a significant degree of depression which may alter their appearance, behavior and academic performance. There are two varieties of depression we would like to describe.

College students may experience intense feelings of homesickness and loneliness as they deal with the developmental tasks of separating and individuating from their families. These students may appear "down," "blue," somewhat apathetic and unhappy. Most of them will successfully resolve these conflicts. For many students, this may be their first experience of any significant, extended depression, and they may not know that for many, this feeling will pass, with or without psychological intervention.

If you know of students who you suspect are feeling mildly depressed, you may ask them if they are feeling down, and tell them of your concerns and observations while suggesting they make an appointment to see a counselor.

Depression is a typical human experience from which people will recover; however, living in a compact environment such as a university community may exacerbate the problem. A counselor may talk with the depressed student to offer support, insight, conflict resolution, and referral for medication when appropriate.

However, some students may need additional help, support, and clarification as they deal with these issues, and they may exhibit symptoms of a more serious depression. They may appear tired, apathetic, irritable, sad and/or angry. Motivation and energy usually decrease as does involvement in activities which are ordinarily enjoyable; they may lose their appetite or begin to overeat. Not uncommonly they may sleep more than is customary, though other changes in sleep patterns may be evident. In more serious cases, people also experience various degrees of hopelessness, sometimes leading to thoughts of suicide.

What is Depression?
Depression is more than the blues or the blahs; it is more than normal, everyday ups and downs. When that down mood, along with other symptoms, lasts for more than a couple of weeks, the condition may be clinical depression. Clinical depression is a serious health problem that affects the total person. In addition to feelings, it can change behavior, physical health and appearance, academic performance, and the ability to handle everyday decisions and pressures.

Causes of Depression
Many factors set the stage for depression. Among the most important are personal background, coping strategies, and biological vulnerability, including possible genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalances, or other serious physical problems.

The most common immediate cause of depression is the loss of personal worth and self-esteem. Frequently, this is brought on by external factors such as:

  • The breakup of a friendship or romance
  • Divorce or family separation
  • Death of a loved one
  • Academic or financial stress

Loss of self-esteem and personal worth can also be caused by internal psychological factors such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations and standards
  • Lack of coping skills
  • A feeling of not getting enough love or support from parents or other important people

In some cases, several causes may be tightly intertwined creating a downward spiral. The interaction of a painful event, weak coping skills, negative thinking, and self-devaluing behavior all create a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

The Occurrence of Depression
Depression and other affective disorders are the third most common medical condition diagnosed in the US, after cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems, and seem to be on the rise. An estimated 17 percent of the population suffers from affective illness that includes ten million Americans every year. One-fourth of all women and one-eighth of all men will suffer at least one episode or occurrence of depression during their lifetimes. The chance of someone who lives to age 70 becoming seriously depressed at least once is now 7.8 percent for men and 20 percent for women. Depression affects people of all ages but is less common for teenagers than for adults. Approximately 3 to 5 percent of the teen population experiences clinical depression every year. That means among 100 teenagers, 4 could be clinically depressed.

At any stage, women tend to become depressed about disruptions or losses in relationships, while male depression often centers on failure and frustration within careers.

Types of Depression
Depression takes on various forms, just as other illnesses do. Three of the most prevalent types of depressive disorders are listed below. It's important to remember that within these types, there are variations in the number of symptoms, severity, and persistence.

Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These disabling episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.

A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable, but keep one from functioning at full steam or from feeling good. Sometimes people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes.

Another type of depression is bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depressive illness. Not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders, bipolar disorder involves cycles of depression and elation or mania. Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they're gradual. When in the depressed cycle, a person may have any or all symptoms of a depressive disorder. When in the manic cycle, any or all symptoms listed under mania may be experienced. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment.

Depression Warning Signs and Symptoms
The most tragic aspect of depression is not that it occurs so often but that so many people suffer through it without recognizing the problem or seeking help. The most frequent signs of depression are:

  • A depressed mood, with feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, or indifference, persisting for two weeks or more
  • Inability to experience any pleasure
  • Loss of appetite, usually accompanied by weight loss
  • Sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep and early morning awakening
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Agitation or jumpiness
  • Impaired speech, thought, and movement
  • Decrease in sexual interest and activity
  • Loss of interest in work and usual activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-reproach
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Pessimism
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Anxiety
  • Bodily complaints

Strategies for Relieving Mild Depression and Anxiety
To ease the passing of mild depression:

  • Recognize the cause
  • Take productive action to benefit the situation
  • Avoid unpleasant tasks, if possible
  • Take a nap
  • Exercise
  • Plan a pick-me-up snack
  • Do something fun
  • Find reasons to laugh
  • Go outdoors (The green color of living plants in the sun has a known therapeutic effect on the viewer.)
  • Seek outside help to clarify feelings

To reduce anxiety:

  • Identify the cause. What do you fear? State it in words
  • Deal with it. Can you change it? How? Do it
  • If you can't change it, let it go. Worry is not helpful, and it wastes energy
  • Visualize a positive outcome and work toward that. Live in the solution, not in the problem
  • Use any accumulated energy in some physical way by exercising. People who exercise regularly experience less anxiety than people who don't. Lack of exercise aggravates and can even cause anxiety

Helping the Depressed Person
The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him/her get appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may involve encouraging the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate or to seek different treatment, if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether the depressed person is taking medication.

The second most important thing is to offer emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage expressed feelings, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Always report these remarks to the depressed person's counselor.

Do not accuse the depressed person of faking illness or of laziness. Do not expect him/her to snap out of the depression. Eventually, with treatment, most depressed people do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring the depressed person that with time and help, he/she will feel better.

If a student would like to talk to someone in further detail about the specific resources available to him/her regarding depression, contact the Counseling and Wellness Center, 607-871-2300.

Websites

For additional information on this, and other Mental Health Topics, contact:
http://ub-counseling.buffalo.edu
http://www.cmhc.com
http://www.psycom.net/depression.central.html

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