Depression in College
Moving away from home, spending long hours studying, making new friends, setting your own schedule—these are the realities that come with becoming a college student. And they are part of the reason why many of the 17 million American adults who experience depression next year will be college students.
The American College Health Association conducted a survey involving 17,000 college students. Twenty-five percent of the students said that feelings of depression made it hard to function. Others studies, like those done by Dr. John Greden from the University of Michigan Depression Center, found that depression peaks around ages 15-19 years old, affecting 15% of college students.
Depression can be triggered by any stressful life change—even if it is a change you choose to do, such as going to college. For many young adults, college is the first major life change they have experienced. College students are in a transitional phase of life, facing such issues as:
- New living arrangements
- The need to monitor one’s schedule and tend to needs (food, laundry, sleep)
- Academic pressure
- New financial responsibilities
- Changes in relationships with family and friends
- Growing pressures from new relationships, both platonic and romantic
- Sexual identity
- Concerns about life after graduation
What are some ways you can help deal with the changes that come with being a college student? How can you differentiate between normal sadness or homesickness and depression? What should you do if you think you are depressed? How is depression treated? Here’s what you need to know.
Adjusting to College Life
If you or someone you know is having trouble adjusting to the stresses and changes that come along with college life, here are some coping tips from the National Mental Health Association:
- Make plans for the day. This will help you get organized and feel like you have some control over your work.
- Do your best to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Fatigue can lead to depression.
- Get involved in activities, whether it be sports or an environmental group.
- Share your feelings with friends. This will help you feel more at ease in your new environment.
- Try different relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation.
- Do something just for you.
Knowing the Signs
How do you know if you are depressed? Depression is more than just a passing blue mood. It is an illness that, if left untreated, can last for weeks, months, or even years. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following symptoms can be signs of depression:
- A persistent sad, anxious, and/or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies you used to enjoy
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating, remembering, and/or making decisions
- Insomnia, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Restlessness and/or irritability
- Headaches, digestive disorders, and/or chronic pain that don’t respond to medical treatment
If you are concerned that you are depressed, one of the most important things you can do is seek treatment. Treating depression can help you enjoy your college years.
Talk to your regular doctor, or visit the student health or counseling center. A healthcare professional can assess your symptoms and, if necessary, refer you to a mental health specialist.
There are many forms of therapy available for the treatment of depression, including counseling, medication, or a combination of the two. Medication can help to relieve your symptoms, and psychological counseling can help you learn to deal with life’s problems.
Some students experience such severe depression that they begin to have suicidal thoughts. If this happens to you, it is an emergency. Seek immediate help from your college health service, counseling service, or the nearest hospital emergency department. Make sure that friends, residence hall staff, and family members know how you are feeling, so that you can get the best support. And try to remember that depression is an illness that can be managed. You can get help and feel better.
Remember, although college can be a difficult time, it is a chance for you to grow and change for the better—both personally and professionally. Don’t let depression overshadow your college experience.
Please Note: On March 22, 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Public Health Advisory that cautions physicians, patients, families and caregivers of patients with depression to closely monitor both adults and children receiving certain antidepressant medications. The FDA is concerned about the possibility of worsening depression and/or the emergence of suicidal thoughts, especially among children and adolescents at the beginning of treatment, or when there’s an increase or decrease in the dose. The medications of concern—mostly SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors)—are: Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Wellbutrin (bupropion), Effexor (venlafaxine), Serzone (nefazodone), and Remeron (mirtazapine). Of these, only Prozac (fluoxetine) is approved for use in children and adolescents for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Luvox (fluvoxamine) are approved for use in children and adolescents for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. For more information, please visit http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/antidepressants
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depression.cfm . Accessed December 4, 2003.
Depression and treatments. University of Michigan Depression Center website. Available at: http://www.depressioncenter.org/. Accessed June 3, 2008.
Finding hope & health: college student and depression pilot initiative fact sheets. National Mental Health Association website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/camh/college/fact_sheets.cfm . Accessed December 8, 2003.
Tips on dealing with depression in college. National Mental Health Association website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/DepressioninCollege.cfm . Accessed December 4, 2003.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Theodor B. Rais, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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