By Dr. Chris Meno, CAPS Psychologist and Outreach Coordinator
Depression is one of the most common reasons students come to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). 1 in 10 college students experience Depression each year, and Depression is the number one reason students drop out of college. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to know the symptoms of Depression and how we can help a friend or student going through this illness.
October 17-21 is Depression Awareness and Screening Week at IU and CAPS is offering free, anonymous Depression screenings online and in-person screenings (Monday Oct. 17, 6-9 p.m. at Teter; Tuesday Oct. 18, 6-9 p.m. at SRSC; and Wednesday Oct. 19, 6-9 p.m. at Eigenmann). We’re also offering Depression screenings in our Medical Clinic, and our social media will be full of helpful information, articles, stats, and videos about Depression (#IUDASW)
Let’s start with a question people always ask: “What is Depression and how is it different from sadness?” Sadness is a normal emotion that we all feel from time to time. It’s often due to life events (e.g., not getting the internship you wanted), but sometimes we can’t identify why we feel down. Depression is much more than feeling down. In addition to low mood, people experience significant changes in sleep, appetite/weight, fatigue, concentration and capacity for pleasure, and they can have thoughts about death or suicide. These symptoms affect the person’s ability to complete their day-to-day activities like attending classes or jobs, completing homework, and nurturing relationships, and the symptoms persist nearly every day for a minimum of two weeks or longer. Depression can occur in response to a life event (e.g., the death of a loved one), but often there is no connection to what’s happening in your life. (Remember, a medical illness does not need a “reason” to begin.) Besides Major Depressive Disorder described above, Dysthymia, Bipolar Disorder, and Cyclothymia are other, less common forms of what are called Affective Disorders.
So, if the symptoms of Depression are so clear, why don’t people just get treatment? (Nationally, about 2/3 of people never do!) A few things often get in the way. Here they are, (debunked).
- Sometimes people think Depression will go away on it’s own. (While some medical conditions clear up on their own, this one can take quite a while).
- Sometimes people think they can’t truly have Depression if they can get out of bed each day. (Those TV commercials about Depression can be misleading – folks with mild or even moderate Depression are probably sitting near you right now.)
- Others think having Depression means you must be weak, not trying hard enough to feel better, or even “crazy”. (Depression is a medical illness that affects behavior and emotions, much like Dementia and strokes!)
- Stigma is another common reason – some students worry others will find out or judge them. Depression can feel even more shameful for some students of color or international students.
Now that we hopefully cleared up those misconceptions, what can YOU do to help a friend or student who might be experiencing Depression?
Most importantly, let them know you’ve noticed a change and are concerned. How about saying “Miguel, it seems like you haven’t been sleeping much and are distracted. How are you doing?” or “Julia, you don’t seem like yourself lately – you haven’t been hanging out with us as much. What’s up?” You can let your friends know about CAPS and encourage them to make an appointment. “Hey, did you know IU students get two free counseling visits at CAPS each semester? Maybe you could go see what ideas they have for helping you feel better. I can come with you if you want.”
Here are other ways to participate this week (and beyond):
- Take our Depression Screening and/or encourage a friend to do so.
- Repost this blog and/or our other related social media posts this week.
- Stop using mental health terms insensitively (e.g., “the weather is so bipolar”, “my teacher went on a psychotic rant in class”, “I feel so depressed today”).
- Wear a green ribbon for Depression Awareness Week.
We all need to work together to reduce stigma against Depression and mental health. Let’s start now.