Important information for students and the people who love them
Depression is a common illness, but many do not fully understand it, know the symptoms, or know what to do if they are experiencing depression. Below is some information to help you better understand the illness, assess your level of depression and evaluate options for treatment.
Everyone has experienced feeling sad or unhappy, but when do these feelings become a concern? If these feelings last for weeks or months this can be a sign of depression. Depression is an illness that affects people emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and/or spiritually. Depression can be so intense and last so long that it can interfere with your daily life, and affect your sleep, eating habits, energy, work performance, relationships, and lead to suicidal thinking. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts now, or if you are worried that a loved one is thinking about suicide, we encourage you to go to the suicide prevention portion of this website now.
If you are struggling with depression, you are not alone. It is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world. It is estimated that 7-12% of men and 20-25% of women will suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime (1). According to a survey at Gustavus, 17% of Gusties say that they suffer from depression (2). Depression does not discriminate on the basis of race or social class. Anyone can suffer from depression.
If you think you are one of the many people who suffer from depression, help is available and healing is really possible. Mental health and medical professionals can help you determine if you are experiencing depression, or if there is another cause for your symptoms. They can also provide effective treatment if, in fact, you do have depression. Most people benefit from a combination of treatments, including counseling, exercise, changes in diet, lifestyle changes, and, at times, medication. There are also many self-help strategies that can be beneficial, and some are provided below. Finding the right combination of strategies is important, you are encouraged to work with someone who can help you identify alternatives that can work for you.
Many people are afraid of the stigma that is sometimes associated with depression. In general, our culture does not have a good understanding of depression, its causes or effective treatments. As a result, stereotypes and misinformation abound, including the beliefs that people with depression are just lazy or weak, or that they should be able to "suck it up." If you or a loved one has suffered with depression, you know that these stereotypes and misinformation are harmful, as well as untrue. They perpetuate the stigma attached to mental health conditions and can be painful and shaming.
There are ways to cope with stigma and combat it. Many illnesses, including depression, are gaining more acceptance and empathy as more education is provided to the public. Most people find that if they tell family or friends about their depression they receive support, not judgment, from those they love. Naming your illness as depression can be useful because once you have an accurate diagnosis, it’s not just a label — it’s a guide to proper care and healing.
There are many ways depression can affect people, and each person is different. Some of the common problems people experience are listed below. In order to be diagnosed with depression, people must have multiple symptoms for at least two consecutive weeks.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Critical thoughts about yourself
- Unusually forgetful
- Frequent thoughts about death and/or suicide (LINK to suicide prevention)
- Sad, hopeless, empty
- Irritable, angry, moody
- Emotional numbness
- Diminished pleasure from activities
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Feeling pessimistic
- Feeling alienated or isolated from others
- Unnecessary feelings of guilt
- Changes in sleep patterns, either insomnia or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Headaches, muscle aches
- Stomach and back pain
- Significant decline in personal hygiene
- Increased dependency on others
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feeling unworthy of love and support from friends and family
- Avoiding people
- Impoverished friendships
- Frequent bickering or fighting
- Highly critical of others
- Frequent impatience or frustration with others
- Emotionally or physically abusing others
- Poor class attendance
- Missing work
- Decline in academic or work performance
- Severe procrastination or difficulty concentrating
- Pattern of asking for extensions or dropping classes
- Chronic indecisiveness affecting things such as paper topics, course selection, and/or choice of major or career
If you would like to know more about your level of depression, you can take a quick assessment survey at the link below. Answers all the questions as honestly as you can. The instrument will score your answers, and give you a general idea about the severity of any depression symptoms you have.
You have done some assessment and may be wondering if you have depression. So what is next? As mentioned before, most people benefit from a combination of treatments, including counseling, exercise, changes in diet, lifestyle changes, self-help strategies, and, at times, medication. Finding the right combination can be challenging but is very important, so we encourage you to work with someone who can help you identify alternatives that may work for you.
If you have depression, you are probably depressed for good reasons — maybe a major life event is contributing to your mood, or perhaps you have been living with chronic stress for a long period of time. Generally, if you have depression you have tried many things to cope with or overcome it on your own. However, for many people, usual ways of coping may not work.
A mental health professional can teach you new ways to manage your situation more effectively and ways to cure depression. Learning how to deal with the source of the depression is imperative, and counseling can be helpful in doing this. Research has shown that while counseling takes longer, people who choose this as their primary treatment get better at the same rate as people who take medication, and they stay better. People who only take medication tend to relapse. Counseling can teach you how to overcome the causes of depression and prevent future occurrences. Research has shown that when medication is necessary, counseling and medication together provide the best results.
If you are interested in pursuing counseling, there are many mental health professionals in the area. References to professionals are listed in the resources section of the Counseling Center site. Here are links to those sources.
We recommend that people who have symptoms of depression see a medical provider to make sure they do not have another underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or under-active thyroid.
Once other medical conditions have been ruled out, your medical practitioner may discuss the possibility of prescribing medication to ease your symptoms of depression.
Some medications are curative, like antibiotics that cure a bacterial infection. Others medications only offer symptom relief, like over the counter cold medications that make you feel better but do not cure your cold. Anti-depressant medications offer symptom relief, but they are not curative. Many people who stop taking anti-depressant medications have a recurrence of depression because taking medication does not cure it. However, many people find medications to be beneficial; particularly if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or if they can no longer do daily life tasks. Symptom relief in these instances may be life saving.
Medication and counseling have been found to be equally successful in treating depression, with medication working faster at relieving symptoms, and counseling working to cure the causes of depression over a longer time. For some people, a combination of both is what works best for them.
Gustavus offers medical assessments and treatments for depression. For more information you can visit the Gustavus Health Service website.
There is increasing evidence that what we eat affects our emotional health as well as our physical health. If you would like to talk about how you could change your diet to support your mental health you can talk with our nutritionist in Health Service about strategies to help you.
There are many books about overcoming depression that you may find helpful, a few of which are listed below. The Counseling Center has a loaning library with these titles, and most would be available at any bookstore or public library.
- Breaking the Patterns of Depression, by Michael Yapko, Ph.D.
- Mind Over Mood, by Dennis Greenberger, Ph.D. and Christine Padesky, Ph.D.
- The Feeling Good Handbook, by David Burns, M.D.
- Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
- The Chemistry of Joy, by Henry Emmons, M.D.
Students Against Depression
A comprehensive website written for college students that offer useful information on many different aspects depression.
National Institute of Mental Health
A comprehensive website that addresses the causes, symptoms and treatment of depression.
Provides an overview of depression.
Strategies You Can Try On Your Own
Build your social support network. Social support has been found to be a valuable resource in overcoming depression, so talk with a friend, mentor, parent, or other trusted person.
Take good care of yourself. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, having time for yourself every day brings balance to your life and can help heal depression.
Increase your exercise. Even very moderate exercise can make a big difference in your mood, and studies have shown exercise to be as effective as medication in combating the symptoms of depression. Exercise raises the levels of endorphins and serotonin (mood chemicals in your brain), giving feelings of pleasure and raising mood. It also contributes to a sense of achievement. Aim to get 30-60 minutes a day of vigorous exercise.
Focus outward. Depression narrows your perspective and works to keep you looking inward in negative ways. Any moment that you can spend thinking about something or someone else is a moment in which depression can't get your attention! So get involved in community service, do something for someone else, and help decrease your focus on yourself and/ or your own distress.
Challenge your automatic negative thoughts. Ask yourself if your thoughts are really true. If not, come up with new thoughts that are more accurate and truthful.
Learn to become more optimistic. Research has shown pessimism is learned, not innate. The good news is that pessimism can be unlearned. When you have a pessimistic view, challenge yourself to see another, more optimistic possibility. The book Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, PhD can be a good resource.
Learn to focus on the present. Worrying about the future is a factor in most anxiety and focusing on the past in most depression. When people focus on what’s happening in the present moment, they usually find it is neutral or actually pleasant.
Now that you have a better understanding of depression and treatment options, you might be interested in making an appointment with a professional who could offer you additional help. If you would like some help, please make an appointment at the Counseling Center, Health Service, or another resource off campus.
We gratefully acknowledge that some information came from (1) the Mayo Clinic website, www.mayoclinic.org and (2) the American College Health Association Survey, 2006