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Keep Your Spirits Bright — Facts to Know about Depression
You're finally college-bound and on your own. Although it's an exciting time, the transition to college can be stressful and overwhelming. If you're feeling blue, don't be hard on yourself. This is a big step. Moving away from family, friends and everything familiar to you can be difficult and lonely.
While it's normal to feel somewhat sad or anxious, if you continue to feel this way for several weeks at a time, you may be depressed. Being depressed is different from feeling homesick, missing your friends or being upset because you goofed on an exam — all of which tend to pass. Depression is a serious medical condition that can affect your body, mood, thoughts and behavior. It typically first appears during adolescence, and major life changes like going to college can sometimes trigger its onset.
Feeling Down in the Dumps? You're not Alone.
Many college students are depressed without even knowing it. A recent survey found that nearly half of all college students felt so depressed at points during the school they had had suicidal thoughts, and 15 percent had seriously considered suicide.
Women are more likely to suffer from depression—roughly two to three times as many women experience depression as men. Depression also tends to run in families. So it may be worth asking your mom or dad whether anyone has dealt with this before.
Depression Takes Its Toll
If you're depressed, you probably feel as though a cloud has been cast over your enjoyment of college life. You may find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Depression can interfere with your day-to-day functioning at college and can impact relationships with friends and family. It also can affect your appetite, sleep, energy level, thinking, self-esteem and physical well-being.
Watch for Warning Signs
We all have days when we don't quite feel like ourselves and find it difficult to face the day ahead. However, the symptoms of depression are persistent. If you or someone you know is depressed, you may notice one or more of the following:
- sustained sadness, anxiety, irritability or boredom
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable (hanging out with friends, pursuing hobbies)
- noticeable changes in eating and sleeping habits (a lot more or a lot less)
- withdrawal from family, friends and social activities
- difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering and an inability to complete schoolwork
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness and emptiness
- physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upsets or pain that don't respond to treatment
- recurrent thoughts of suicide
What Can You Do?
Be aware of your feelings. Are you having difficulty concentrating? Are you sleeping too much or not enough? Are you avoiding activities that normally interest you? If so, you should contact your student health or counseling service.
There are a number of things you or your friends can do to cope with the stress of college and feelings of depression.
- Map out your day. This will help you prioritize and gain a sense of control over what you need to accomplish.
- Don't procrastinate. Find pockets of time during the day to get work done, so you're not burning the midnight oil. Not getting enough sleep can lead to depression.
- Talk openly with friends and family. They can be a tremendous support, and you may be surprised how many of your friends also feel sad and stressed.
- Exercise regularly. This can boost your body's natural mood-enhancing chemicals and reduce stress hormones.
- Get involved. Participate in campus activities that interest you (athletics, theater, community service clubs, sororities and fraternities).
- Avoid alcohol, drugs or excessive caffeine. These substances only worsen depression.
Depression Is Serious
Like diabetes and cancer, depression is a medical illness. No matter what some people might try to tell you, you cannot just "snap out of it." But you can get better. There are a number of treatments available for depression. If you think you might have a problem or know someone who does, seek professional help as soon as possible.
If it goes undiagnosed or untreated, depression can lead to suicide--the second leading cause of death among college-age students. Ask and tell if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide. Get help immediately by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), your health professional or emergency department. Among college-aged women and men, depression is closely linked to alcohol and drug abuse. You may be inclined to turn to alcohol or drugs to get a "high" or escape from the reality of how you feel, but these substances only make depression worse. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, especially in college-aged women, are also associated with depression.
Depression should not be taken lightly, whether it's you or a friend who is suffering.
If you, your roommate or a friend is showing signs of depression, talk openly about it and seek treatment. Contact your primary care doctor or student health service to make an appointment. If you're worried about a friend, offer to go with her or him to see a doctor or counselor.
During your visit, the doctor will likely conduct a physical exam to check whether there are any other medical problems. Your provider may also send you to a psychiatrist who is specially trained in mental health. Most colleges have counseling services on campus.
Be honest about how you're feeling. This will help you and your provider determine whether psychological counseling, medication or a combination is needed. You can also come up with coping strategies to guard against depressive episodes.
Questions to Ask
- What can I do in addition to taking medication?
- How can I better manage my life at school?
- Is it important to figure out what triggers depressive episodes?
- A lot of people think this feeling will go away on its own. Is this true?
- Are there additional resources available on campus?
Taking advantage of these resources can help you get back on track, so you can excel in your studies, get involved with campus life and fully enjoy your college years. After all, these are supposed to be some of the best years of your life!
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
National Hopeline Network
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
© 2012. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.