What is Depression?

More than just feeling down or blue, depression is sustained or persistent sadness or inability to feel enjoyment lasting at least two weeks or more. Depression interferes with a person's life by decreasing their ability to function at work, school or in relationships with others. In addition to sadness, depression is accompanied by at least some of the symptoms below.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness.
  • Inability to experience pleasure—even from activities that you used to enjoy.
  • Feeling worthless, guilty or hopeless.
  • Isolating from others.
  • Physical ailments.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Irritability.
  • Indecisiveness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
  • Suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

All of us have felt down or discouraged at times when things don't go well. There are normal variations in moods over time, and even day-to-day. However, depression is longer-lasting and interferes with important areas of functioning like school and relationships. Depression may range from mild to severe depending upon the associated symptoms and the extent the condition interferes with every day functioning.

Facts about Depression

  • More than 13 million Americans will experience a depressive disorder each year.
  • Two out of 3 students who suffer from depression never get help.
  • Treatments for depression are successful more than 80 percent of the time.
  • Depression is known to weaken the immune system, increasing susceptibility to physical illness.
  • Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men.
  • In men, irritability, anger or discouragement may be indicators of depression.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

Causes of Depression

Depression can be caused by biological, genetic or psychological factors. Common triggers for depression, especially for college students, include transitioning to a new environment, academic difficulties, family conflict, the loss of a significant relationship, or concerns about the future. Depressive episodes can occur without identifiable causes. Depression is not the result of personal failure or lack of will power.

What Should I do if I Feel Depressed?

Take time to assess why you're feeling down. In many cases, feeling sad is an expected and appropriate reaction to a situation.

Increase Social Support

  • Talk to friends or family.
  • Confide in others.

Explore Thoughts, Feelings and Problem Solving

  • Write about your situation in a journal.
  • Allow yourself to experience your feelings.
  • If you're angry, find a safe way to express it. Cry if needed.
  • Replace negative thinking with realistic thinking.
  • Break large tasks into small ones and set manageable goals.

Maintain Health/Exercise

  • Maintain healthy nutrition. Junk food, caffeine and alcohol can cause mood swings.
  • Workout in the Activity Center.
  • Join an intramural team.
  • Attend yoga classes.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Don't abuse alcohol/drugs.

Practice Spirituality

  • Participate in religious services.
  • Talk to clergy.
  • Read inspirational material.
  • Meditate, pray.

Engage in Rewarding Activities

  • Do things you enjoy.
  • Resume old hobbies or learn new ones.
  • Volunteer in community service activities.

Treatment of Depression

It is important to remember that depression is treatable. If symptoms of depression are interfering with your ability to perform daily functions or are causing significant distress, you should consider seeking professional help.

There are a variety of very successful interventions in the treatment of depression. Psychotherapy or medications are effective interventions for treating the majority of depressive illnesses. Research studies have found a combination of the two to be the most effective treatment available.

The type of treatment that is appropriate for you will depend on your specific symptoms, history, situational factors and personal preference. A professional can answer any questions or concerns you may have about treatment.

Helping Someone Who is Depressed

The most important thing to remember as you help someone with depression is to remain supportive. Blaming the depression on the person, trying to make them snap out of it or other confrontational techniques can backfire and make the situation worse.

Let the person know you're concerned about them, want to help and are willing to be a resource. The way you help may range from listening to recommending the person contact a mental health care provider for assistance.

Signals of Suicide Risk

  • Depression. Most depressed people are not suicidal, but most suicidal people are depressed.
  • Talking about death or suicide. People who commit suicide often talk about it directly or indirectly. Be alert to statements like "My family would be better off without me." Sometimes suicidal people talk as if they're saying goodbye.
  • Planning for suicide. Suicidal individuals often arrange to put their affairs in order. They give away articles they value and pay off debts.

Helping a Suicidal Friend

  • Take it seriously and don't ignore it. Approach your friend and, without judgment, let him or her know your concern. "I'm worried about the changes I've seen in you lately. I hope you won't blow me off or think I'm putting you down. I want us to be able to talk."
  • Listen actively. Sit facing your friend in a relaxed, open posture. Maintain eye contact and nod your head to show you're paying attention. Paraphrase what you hear from your friend's perspective. "You felt hurt?" or "It sounds like you were really disappointed."
  • Describe your observations. "You've been missing class...isolating yourself...not eating...don't seem happy...drinking more..."
  • Offer your recommendations. "I'm not sure, but I wonder if you're depressed. There's help available on campus. The Student Counseling Center offers confidential services."
  • Don't minimize your concern. If your friend says "Do you think I need help?" say "Yes, I do. That's a great idea. Can I stay with you while you call/walk to the Student Counseling Center to make an appointment?"