What is depression?
We all have felt down, sad, guilty, disappointed, and upset at one time or another in our lives. These feelings are common and can be triggered by various events, situations, losses, and our perceptions and expectations. It is important to bear in mind that these feelings are on a continuum and involve a variety of symptoms. When these feelings become prolonged, persistent, and severe to the extent that they color and significantly interfere with daily functioning, a person may be experiencing “depression.” It can range from sense of tiredness, low motivation and concentration, to severe difficulties with managing one’s daily life.
Sources of depression
There are many reasons why college students get depressed. You may have experienced some of these yourself:
Breakup of a relationship
Not doing well academically
Not being able to develop meaningful friendships
Death of a significant person
How does Depression Differ from “The Blues”?
|ESSENTIAL DISTINCTION||An illness||A normal reaction to life events|
|SYMPTOMS||Multiple:Mood, thoughts, bodily functions||Single:Mainly mood|
|SUICIDE POTENTIAL||Can result in suicide||Rarely produces suicidal thoughts|
|TREATMENT||Requires specific psychological/psychiatric treatment||Requires a good listener and/or time to heal|
Depression is a whole body illness involving physical symptoms, moods, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression in college students can manifest itself in four primary ways, including mood, thoughts, behaviors, and physiological. If you have one or even a couple of these symptoms, it does not mean you are necessarily experiencing depression that requires treatment. When several of the following symptoms interfere with your ability to function and enjoy life for some duration of time, typically two or more weeks, you may be experiencing what we are referring to in this brochure as “depression.” You may thus need to make changes in your life and/or seek counseling.
Persistently feeling sad, blue, worried, pessimistic, irritable, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once found to be pleasurable.
Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering; viewing yourself as worthless; believing life is just not worth living and there is no hope for the future.
Social withdrawal; low motivation and concentration; not attending classes or getting work completed.
Increase or decrease in appetite; a range of sleeping difficulties, such as problems falling asleep or staying asleep; fatigued and lacking energy; neglecting personal appearance; loss of interest in sex; dry mouth or constipation; and experiencing physical pains that do not respond to medical treatment.
What Can I Do?
Although it may be a significant struggle, try your best each day to maintain a healthy routine where you are eating nutritious, balanced meals, obtaining adequate sleep and regular exercise, attending classes, and continuing to engage in hobbies you used to enjoy. Keeping active releases endorphins, which has an uplifting effect on the body and mind.
If some of your depression is caused and/or perpetuated by pessimistic and catastrophic thinking, it is important that you challenge these negative beliefs to create a more balanced view of yourself and reexamine the reality of the situation. For example, notice the particular negative situation is not representative of your whole life and eliminate self-criticism.
Speak with those you trust, such as family members, friends, roommates, and residential staff. We all have concerns we need to vent and we all need support, so talk to these individuals about what you are feeling and how they themselves overcame depression.
Try your best to engage in activities that bring you joy or that bring happiness for many people, such as getting a massage, reading, painting, getting in the sun, and listening to fun music.
Do not overload yourself. Try to keep things simple and avoid as many stressors as you can until the depression passes. If it does not need to be done, do not do it. You can work on completing unfinished tasks when you are feeling better and have the energy.
When to Seek Professional Help
It is usually recommended to think of three factors when considering seeking professional help. They are frequency, severity, and duration. When the depressive symptoms increase in frequency, severity, or persistence, you may want to have a professional consultation. Sometimes you may seek counseling because you realize it is too difficult dealing with the depressive symptoms on your own. It may also be that other people have observed you cannot tell how you are doing and so it is important Look for other people to tell you how you are doing.
How can Psychotherapy help?
Psychotherapy may be used alone for treatment or in combination with medication. Psychotherapy can work in different ways depending on the sources and symptoms of depression. It can help identify social and interpersonal difficulties and also helping you to make changes in those areas of functioning. Often times the sources have to do with one’s thought patterns. Psychotherapy can help target the negative, self-defeating thoughts and beliefs about oneself and the world and encourage you to develop more positive ways of thinking. Often times the focus of psychotherapy may be on your past experiences and ways they might be affecting your present life. For many people, having a supportive, empathic and nonjudgmental listener is a powerful experience that is therapeutic in its own way. Sometimes it’s helpful to stay with the sad feelings and allow yourself to cry or feel angry. Psychotherapy can support you in working through your feelings, for example to grieve a loss or your feelings about a breakup.
How can medication help?
The issue of medication usually raises concerns and questions for most people. Medications are not usually substitutes for therapy but work best in conjunction with it.
For more serious, persistent symptoms of depression, a consultation with psychiatrist is recommended. Depending on the symptoms, the psychiatrist will determine what kind of medication is likely to work the best for you. In a collaborative way, you will be given the information to help you make the best choices for you. Recent research suggests that changes in the brain chemistry, genetics and body hormones may be linked to depression. This complex biology can trigger changes in mood and behavior. Antidepressants target some of the chemical imbalances that can alter the depressive symptoms. Each person is unique in his/her response to medication. Antidepressants are non-addictive. Usually the decision to taper off meds is one that’s best made in consultation with the psychiatrist.