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What is Depression?
Depression is a disturbance in mood, thought, and/or body characterized by varying degrees of sadness, disappointment, loneliness, hopelessness, self-doubt, and guilt. Most people tend to feel depressed at one time or another; some people may experience these feelings more frequently or with deeper, more lasting effects. In some cases, depression can last for months or even years. The most common type of depression, "feeling blue" or "being in a bad mood" is usually brief in duration and has minimal or slight effects on normal, everyday activities. In the next level of depression, symptoms are more intense and last for a longer period of time. Daily activities become more difficult but the individual is still able to cope with them. However, feelings of hopelessness can become so intense that suicide may seem the only solution. In severe depression, a person may experience extreme fluctuations in mood or even a complete withdrawal from daily routine and/or the outside world.
What causes depression?
When the source of depression is readily apparent, the individual can expect the feelings to lessen and then fade away within a reasonable amount of time. In cases where feelings of depression exist with no apparent source, the depression may get worse because the person is unable to understand it. This sense of loss of control may lead to an increase in the feelings of depression. Any number of stressors may be involved in depression. These can include personality, or environmental factors such as loss of a loved one, an unhealthy relationship, academic stressors, excessive criticism and negativism, unrealistic expectations and difficulty in expressing feelings. Biochemical factors, such as illness, infection, certain drugs (including alcohol and even prescribed medications), and improper diet and nutrition can create chemical imbalances that can play a significant role in some depressions. In general, depression is a withdrawal from physical or psychological stress. Identifying and understanding the underlying cause(s) of the stress is crucial in learning how to cope with and ultimately overcome the depression.
What are the symptoms of depression?
- Persistent feelings of sadness, irritability or anxiety
- Overreaction to irritations
- Sleeping too much, or sleeping too little
- Losing or gaining weight
- Tiredness or restlessness
- Slowed movement, thought and/or speech
- Guilt, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate, poor memory
- Loss of motivation
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts and/or behavior
- Withdrawal from relationships, antisocial behavior
- Physical aches and pains that seem to have no cause
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, including sex
If you have a few of the symptoms on this list, you may be suffering from a form of depression.
What can be done about depression?
There are several options available for those suffering from depression. The first step in the process is to be honest with yourself about changes in mood or the intensity of negative feelings when they occur as this will help you identify the possible sources of depression and stress. Examine your feelings and try to determine what is troubling you -- relationships with family or friends, school, financial responsibilities, and so forth. Discussing problems with the people involved or with an understanding friend can sometimes bring about a resolution before a critical stage of depression and stress is reached. Even mild depression should be dealt with if it is interfering with your effectiveness and/or performance. You might also try to:
- Change your normal routine by taking a break for a favorite activity or something new, even if you don't feel like it
- Exercise to work off tension, help you relax, and perhaps improve your ability to sleep
- Avoid known stressors
- Become more positive and active rather than criticizing and waiting for others to act
- Learn to be specific, not vague about your feelings and to express them constructively
- Delay making long-term commitments, decisions or changes that make you feel trapped or confined
Helping a depressed friend
Since severely depressed individuals can be very withdrawn, lethargic, self-ruminating, and possibly suicidal, a concerned friend can provide a valuable and possibly life-saving service. Talking candidly with the individual regarding your concern for his or her well-being will often help bring the problems out into the open. As you talk with your friend:
- Share your concern and willingness to help
- Acknowledge the pain and suffering
- Do not try to "cheer up" the individual
- Do not criticize or blame as feelings of depression are not the person's fault
- Do not sympathize and claim that you "know how it feels" or that you feel the same way as he or she does
- Try not to get angry with the person
If the depression appears to turn to thoughts of suicide, urge the individual to seek professional help. If the person resists such a suggestion and you feel that suicide is likely, contact one of the professionals at The Student Health Center so you will know how to best handle the situation.
When professional help is necessary?
Depression is treatable and needless suffering can be alleviated. At the Student Health Center, there are physicians on staff who can help you make a plan to deal with your depression. There is also a Behavioral Medicine Specialist on staff that is available whenever someone is experiencing any of the following circumstances:
- When pain or problems outweigh pleasures much of the time
- When symptoms are so severe and persistent that day-to-day functioning is impaired, and/or
- When stress seems so overwhelming that suicide seems to be a viable option
The health care professionals at the Student Health Center can help you identify the causes and sources of your depression and can help you find ways to overcome them. At the Student Health Center, we are concerned about you and your health and want to help you make the most out of your college experience.