Julie tells us about depression happening to a college student. Students have been educated since early childhood to be well-adjusted to modern profoundly-sick society and this is not good for their mental health. When difficulties, pressure and expectations become so hurtful that even a super-confident person would be in trouble, they, who have had their self-confidence constantly hindered for a long time, may resort to the extreme and horribly painful defence of depression.
We send our kids off to college with high aspirations, a bit of nostalgia, and some worries about how they will get their laundry done, what they will eat, and who they will choose as friends. We think they are well prepared for this next phase of life – after all, they did well in high school, have developed a good sense of responsibility, and have been well-adjusted during their first 18 years of life. Never do we expect to get the phone call that says, “I can’t take this anymore; I’m dropping out,” or worse, that horrific call from a campus official that says a son or daughter has committed suicide. And yet, these things happen daily on campuses all over the country.
In the past two decades, diagnosed depression among college students has doubled, and the suicide rate has tripled. And other recent statistics include the following:
- 25% of the current college population suffer from some form of emotional illness, either acute or chronic
- Almost 50% of college students self-report at least some periods of depressions
- Suicide is now the 3rd leading cause of campus deaths
One of the leading causes of student depression, is the large number of “firsts” that these young adults encounter. They are actually living away from home for the first time; they have a roommate – often a stranger with whom they must co-exist and hopefully bond; they are on their own for their basic needs; the support and familiarity of high school are gone, replaced by a loss of identity on a campus at which they have no recognition. Other contributing causes are as follows:
- Lack of sleep
- Poor diet
- Little-to-no physical exercise
- Pressure of assignments and grades – they are now in a new and perhaps more competitive academic environment. Expectations of professors are higher
- Financial concerns: Perhaps they are incurring more debt with each semester, and job prospects are not that great
- The break-up of a relationship, especially for females
- Family history of depression: Statistics do show that, when such a history exists, diagnoses usually occur between the ages of 18-24.
Proactive Steps to Intervene
Before a student goes off to college, it would be a good thing for parents to check out the mental health services that are available on campus and be certain that their child knows how to access them.
It is also really important that family members, faculty, friends and other campus staff be on the lookout for the signs of depression – cutting classes, lack of personal hygiene, self-isolation, lack of communication, change in affect, drug or alcohol abuse, dropping out of activities and clubs, etc. Parents need to have frequent communication; friends and campus staff need to report changes in behavior to the health clinic. Many students will not seek help or treatment because they are embarrassed or in denial. Instead the attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and simply allow the condition to worsen.
When depression is confirmed, it will also be important for parents to look into the college leave-of-absence policies. Taking a semester off is certainly preferable to the other potential impacts of depression.
Treatments for the Depressed College Student
Ideally, there are on-campus mental health services. If not, a local therapist should be contacted. In many cases, however, the student may be unwilling or unable to incur the cost, if health insurance does not cover psychological care.
Treatments are the same as they would be for any individual suffering depression. A combination of medication and therapy usually brings about improvement, as well as mild sleep medication, if insomnia is a problem. Medication must be carefully monitored, of course, and initial weekly visits to the doctor should occur for the first month or two. Other important aspects of treatment may include:
- A healthier diet
- Physical exercise
- Reducing course load
- Transferring to a college closer to home so that support of family and long-term friends is available.
The student who does not want to seek professional help can utilize a few self-help options. Every campus health clinic, every office bulletin board, every classroom building, and every dorm floor should publish the National Suicide Hotline – it should be everywhere. There are a couple of Internet sites as well, that will provide students with coping skills tips and tools for dealing with stress and anxiety. The APA has a site, http://www.healthyminds.org and another site, http://www.campuscalm.com allows students to read about stressors and chat with other students who may be dealing with the same issues. While none of these may be long-term solutions, the student may be encouraged to then seek professional help or at least confide in family and/or friends.
Depression, if acute, is very treatable and subsides when the stressors/causes are removed. Chronic depression, however, is more persistent, and often a roller coaster period ensues until the correct combination of medication and therapy is found. The student must also accept the fact that s/he may be looking at lifelong periods of depression that must be recognized and treated. With continued care, however, students can complete their educations, and develop normal relationships and healthy lifestyles as adults.
About the author: Having a Master’s degree in Journalism and love for travelling, Julie Ellis is financed by her freelance writing to investigate and explore exotic places of the world. Being a Chief Editor at Premier Essay she, as well, features articles for journals and magazines around the world.