College Depression: What Do These Students Have in Common?

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College offers new experiences and challenges. This can be exciting – it can also be stressful and make you, or someone you know, feel sad. But when “the blues” last for weeks, or interfere with academic or social functioning, it may be clinical depression. Clinical depression is a common, frequently unrecognized illness that can be effectively treated.

What do these people have in common?

When I took a part-time job and started living off-campus, my course work fell apart. I couldn’t concentrate or sleep, and I was always IRRITABLE and angry.
After two years of straight A’s, I couldn’t finish assignments anymore. I felt exhausted but couldn’t sleep, and drank A LOT. I couldn’t enjoy life like my friends did anymore.
I’ve always been anxious and never had much confidence. College was harder than I expected, and then my parents divorced, which was traumatic for me. After a while, all I did was cry, sleep, and feel waves of panic.

They are college students who got depressed… got treatment… and got better.

What is Clinical Depression?

Clinical depression can affect your body, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It can change your eating habits, how you feel and think about things, your ability to work and study, and how you interact with people.

Clinical depression is not a passing mood, a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed away. Clinically depressed people cannot “pull themselves together” and get better.

Depression can be successfully treated by a mental health professional or certain health care providers. With the right treatment, 80 percent of those who seek help get better. And many people begin to feel better in just a few weeks.

Types of Depressive Illness

Depressive illnesses come in different forms. The following are general descriptions of the three most prevalent, though for an individual, the number, severity, and duration of symptoms will vary.

major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These impairing episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.

Symptoms of Major Depression

  • Sadness, anxiety, or “empty” feelings
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, oversleeping, or waking much earlier than usual)
  • Appetite and weight changes (either loss or gain)
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering
  • Irritability or excessive crying
  • Chronic aches and pains not explained by another physical condition

A less intense type of depression, dysthymia, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that are less severe, but keep you from functioning at your full ability and from feeling well.

In bipolar illness (also known as manic-depressive illness), cycles of depression alternate with cycles of elation and increased activity, known as mania.

How to Recognize Depression

The first step in defeating depression is recognizing it. It’s normal to have some signs of depression some of the time. But five or more symptoms for two weeks or longer, or noticeable changes in usual functioning, are all factors that should be evaluated by a health or mental health professional. And remember, people who are depressed may not be thinking clearly and may need help to get help.

I kept asking myself, “How could I be depressed? I’d had a normal family life, had been getting good grades, and hadn’t experienced any big trauma – where did my depression come from?”

What Causes Depression?

The causes of depression are complex. Very often a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors is involved in the onset of clinical depression. At times, however, depression occurs for no apparent reason. Regardless of the cause, depression is almost always treatable.

Family History – Depression often runs in families, which usually means that some, but not all, family members have a tendency to develop the illness. On the other hand, sometimes people who have no family history also develop depression.

stress: Psychological and environmental stressors can contribute to a depressive episode, though individuals react differently to life events and experiences.

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