Depression is a serious illness that affects approximately 20 million adults in the United States at some time throughout their life. This disorder causes serious symptoms in nearly 25 percent of women and 12 percent of men (Clinical Professors of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison, WI). It was also discovered that as of 2009, 30 percent of college students reported being “so depressed that it was difficult to function,” (American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment). This is already a high number, and unfortunately, in the last five years, this number has only grown. According to ACHA-NCHA, in 2009, 6 percent of college students reported seriously contemplating suicide, and 1 percent reported having attempted suicide. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States in individuals between 15 and 26 years of age, preceded only by accidental deaths and homicides. These are startling statistics that need to be changed. As somebody recently told me, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
College can be a very stressful time in people’s lives. Often it is the first time people are living on their own, and away from their parents. They typically have to learn how to manage money, cook, and handle various tasks that in the past might have taken care of for them. As college students we have the pressure of school, we discover how different college is from high school and how much more demanding the workload can be. We are still learning who we are, exploring our interests and passions through taking different classes, and participating in different clubs and activities. Due to this being a time full of discoveries and “firsts” it is also a time during which we make a lot of mistakes, and have people there; such advisors, mentors, coaches, and professors who are there to help. However, these people are also constantly teaching us both academic and life lessons. It is easy to get pulled into the idea that this is the groundwork for the rest of our lives; this is when we are learning how to be responsible adults. Some forget to tell us that we don’t need to be perfect, which adds another level of pressure making us feel like whatever we do now is going to determine our future. I’m not saying that we can be reckless and do whatever we want at this point in our lives, we still need to do our best to work hard and make responsible decisions, but we need to keep in mind that most of us are still in our teens or are young adults, we may be in college but most of us are not yet entirely independent, we are still in our years of learning and youth.
There are also a lot of pressures in our lives that are not necessarily school related. Many of us are trying to get real jobs for the first time, are often in and out of our first serious relationships, we are figuring out friends and social circles. It’s a lot more desirable to go hang out with a friend than it is to sit in the library and study, but our decision whichever it is may impact our grade. Now is when we are required to balance work and play. This is a time in our lives when we are really learning who we are and that can be scary, it can be lonely, and it can be very hard. Being a college student comes with a lot of challenges and pressures and it can easily become overwhelming. This can lead to students making unhealthy choices as a method for relieving stress.
Many college students can handle these stressors and do just fine, but as stated earlier, over 30 percent of us cannot, we fall victim to the stressors and sink into depression. Unfortunately, there is a social stigma that goes along with depression. Too many people do not understand that it is a serious illness that people can’t just ignore and get over. A number of individuals believe that people who are depressed are weak, can’t handle their own problems, are selfish, and are needy or pathetic, and if they seek help or tell somebody about it, they are looking for attention. One young woman experienced going through depression and having people look down on her for it, so she wrote a blog with a list of 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed, a pretty interesting and simple but helpful list of, everyday tips that can help make things just a little bit better. Because of these ideas and stigmas, when people suffer from symptoms of depression, rather than asking for help, telling a friend, or talking to a professional, they tend to hide it and even deny it’s existence. However, using these tactics usually does nothing more than make it worse. It allows these feelings, thoughts, and emotions to build and grow sometimes so far that it pushes us over the edge and people begin to make bad decisions. This is when something sad can become something tragic.
There are many different kinds of depression, with varying levels, causes, symptoms, durations, and even treatment methods. Psychotic depression is extremely severe and is often accompanied by hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions. More often than not, people with psychotic depression are hospitalized and in long-term treatment with medication. There is major depression; which is debilitating and has severe and negative effects on your everyday life. More often than not it comes back on occasion throughout your life, and is usually related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Dysthymia is a more mild form of depression with very similar symptoms as major depression but to a less severe degree. Minor depression is much like dysthymia but even less severe and shorter term. Lastly, seasonal affective disorder is depression that begins in winter and tends to end around spring; this form of depression can also have drastically varying degrees of severity.
Depression affects different people differently, but nobody is affected positively from any form of depression. Some of the more common symptoms of depression are: lack of energy, abnormal sleep patterns or insomnia (inability to fall/stay asleep), diet change or loss of apatite, sad feelings, hopelessness, physical pain and or illness, lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy, trouble concentrating, suicidal ideations and several more. Depression can make life very difficult and it is not something to be taken lightly, as it weighs heavily on those who suffer from it.
The school has a variety of resources for students struggling with depression; there is the student health and counseling center with several people available that are here because they want to help. There is Abby’s House, a resource and referral center, which also puts on many different programs throughout the year. There is also help beyond Western Oregon University, for example there is the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK, this is a 24/7 hotline, that you can call and talk to professional counselors at any time, you can just talk to them, or they can refer you to places to go if you are in a situation where you need more than a person to just talk to. Also, right around us there is the Polk County Mental Health crisis hotline the day number is (503)-623-9289, or the after hours number (503)-581-5535.
Depression is a very common thing, and it is not something to be ashamed of. If you or somebody you know is suffering from depression, the best things you can do are get help and be supportive. Don’t let it go on as if it’s not there, that’s only going to make it worse and possibly reach a dangerous level.
By Devin Lowrey