Depression: Define it. Defeat it.
You know that your college years can be complicated and demanding. Deep down, you may be quite sure of who you are, what you want to do, or whether the choices you make from day to day are the best ones for you. Sometimes the many changes and pressures facing you may threaten to overwhelm you. So it is not surprising that from time to time you, or a friend, feel down or discouraged.
But what about those times when one's activity and outlook on life remain low for weeks and begin to affect relationships, or the ability to relax or to be productive? If you, or a friend, are facing a period like this, depression may be the cause. It may help to have a better understanding of depression.
Find Out More about Depression
Q. What is depression?
A. Depression is more than the blues or the blahs; it is not the normal everyday ups and downs. When a "down" mood, along with other symptoms, lasts for more than a couple of weeks, the condition may be clinical depression. A serious health problem, clinical depression affects the total person. It can change one's feelings, behavior, physical health and appearance, academic performance, and the ability to handle daily decisions and pressures.
Q. What causes clinical depression?
A. We do not yet know all the causes of depression, but there seem to be biological and emotional factors that may increase the liklihood that an individual will develop a depressive disorder. Recent research strongly suggests a genetic link to some depressive disorders; depression can run in families. Painful experiences and certain personality patterns such as difficulty handling stress, low esteem, or extreme pessimism about the future, can increase the chances of becoming depressed.
Q. How common is it?
A. Clinical depression is a lot more common than most people think. It affects 10 million people in the U.S. every year. One-fourth of all women and one-eight of all men will suffer at least one episode or occurance of depression during their lifetimes. Depression affects people of all ages but is less common for teenagers than for adults. Approximately 3-5% of all teens experience clinical depression every year. That means that among 50 of your unit mates, 2 could be clinically depressed.
Q. Is it serious?
A. Depression can be very serious. It has been linked to poor academic performance, alcohol and drug abuse, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. In the past 25 years, the rate of suicide among young adults and teenagers has increased dramatically; suicide is often linked to depression.
Q. Are all depressive disorders alike?
A. There are various forms of depression. Some people experience only one episode of depression in a lifetime, but others have several recurrences. Some depressive episodes begin suddenly for no apparent reason, while others can be associated with a difficult life situation or unusual stress. Sometimes people who are depressed cannot perform even the simplest daily activities, like getting out of bed or getting dressed; others go through the motions, but clearly are not acting or thinking as usual. Some people suffer from bipolar depression, in which their moods may cycle between two extremes, from the depths of despair to frenzied heights of activity or grandiose ideas about their own competence.
Q. Can it be treated?
A. Yes, depression is treatable. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with depression - even the most serious forms - can be helped. Symptoms can be relieved quickly with psychological therapies, medications, or a combination of both. The most important step toward treating depression - and sometimes the most difficult - is asking for help.
Q. Why don't people get the help they need?
A. Often people don't know thay are depressed, so they cannot ask for or get the right help. Students often fail to recognize the signs of depression in themselves or in their friends. Misconceptions about psychological help can impede a person, as can feelings of shame or pride or extreme self-reliance.
Be able to Tell Fact from Fiction
Myths about depression often keep people from using the effective treatments available. Their friends need to know the facts. Some of the common myths are these:
Myth:Young adults don't suffer from "real" depression.
Fact:Depression can affect people at any stage of life, or of any racial, ethnic, or economic background.
Myth:People who claim to be depressed are weak and just need to pull themselves together. There's nothing anyone else can do to help.
Fact:Depression is not a weakness, but a serious health problem. People who are depressed need professional treatment. A trained therapist or counselor can help them learn more positive ways to think about themselves, change behavior, cope with problems, or handle relationships. A physician can prescribe medications to help relieve the symptoms of depression. For many people a combination of psychological therapy and medication is beneficial.
Myth:Talking about depression only makes it worse.
Fact:Talking may help a friend recognize the need tor professional help. By showing your concern and giving nonjudgemental support, you can encourage your friend to talk to a parent or another trusted adult, like a dean, faculty member, or coach, about getting treatment. If your friend is reluctant to ask for help, you can talk to Psychological Services staff or a dean - that's what a real friend would do.
Myth:Depressed people who talk about suicide don't actually try to commit suicide.
Fact:Many people who commit suicide have given "warnings" to friends or family. It may be a statement such as "I wish I were dead," "I can't take much more; I want out," or "You would be better off without me." Some people even tell another person about a plan to kill themselves before they actually try. If a friend of yours talks like this, take it seriously! Immediately inform a dean or make a Psychological Services Staff person aware of your concerns.
Myth:Telling someone else that your friend may be depressed is betraying a trust; if someone wants help, s/he will get it.
Fact:Depression, which saps energy and self-esteem, interferes with a person's wish or ability to get help. It is an act of loyalty to your friend to share your concerns with a counselor, or a dean, or a Psychological Services staff person.
Know the Symptoms
The first step toward defeating depression is to define it. If you or a friend has felt "down" for more that a week or 10 days, consider the following questions as a way to recognize the symptoms of depression:
Do they express feelings of
- sadness or emptiness?
- hopelessness, pessimism or guilt?
- helplessness or worthlessness
Do they seem
- unable to make decisions?
- unable to concentrate or remember?
- to have lost interest or pleasure in ordinary activities like music, exercise, or spending time with friends?
- to have more problems than usual with school and family?
Do they complain of
- loss of energy and drive, so they seem "slowed Down"?
- trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting up?
- appetite problems - gaining or losing weight?
- headaches, stomachaches or backaches?
- chronic aches and pains in joints and muscles?
Has their behavior changed recently so that
- they are restless or irritable?
- they want to be alone more of the time?
- they've started cutting classes or dropped out of sight?
- you think thay may be drinking heavily or taking drugs?
Have they talked about
- attempted suicide in the past?
- had a friend or family member who attempted or completed a suicide?
Find Someone who can Help
Don't assume someone else is taking care of the problem. Negative thinking, inappropriate behavior, or physical changes need to be reversed as quickly as possible. Not only can treatment lessen the severity of depression, it may also reduce the duration of your friend's depression and may prevent additional bouts of depression.
If a friend shows the symptoms of depression, you can listen and encourage him or her to ask for treatment. If your friend doesn't seek help quickly, talk to a dean or Psychological Services staff person, especially if your friend mentions death or suicide.
There are many places in the community where people with depressive disorders can be diagnosed and treated. Help is available from:
- Brown Psychological Services 863-3476
- Samaritans 272-4044
- Butler Hospital 455-6200
(Material adapted from NIMH DART Program pamphlet, DHHS Publication No. ADM 89-1628. For more information call 301/443-4140.)
Two student organizations, BSPAN (Brown Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network) and Active Minds are collaborating with the staff of Psychological Sevices to create an outreach, "Addressing Depression."