I was honored to participate last week in a blogger conference call sponsored by Revolution Health with Dr. Val Jone, Dr. Mark Smaller, and Ross Szabo about depression and mental illness among college students today.
You can listen to the podcast of the interview by clicking here.
We covered a variety of topics, important information for parents of those going off to college this year, and for college students themselves.
Ross Szabo is the Director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Compaign, has spoken to over 500,000 young people in high school and colleges about mental health issues in the last five years. His passion for de-stigmatizing depression and mental illness is contagious, and I can see why he is a favorite speaker on this topic. His book, “Behind Happy Faces: What Young Aduts Need to Know About Mental Health,” was released last week.

Mark Smaller, Ph.D., practices psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in Chicago with adults, adolescents and children, as well as consults with parents and couples. He is also the Director of the Neuro-Psychoanalysis Foundation in New York and London, which supports research in neuropsychoanalysis.
Here are some of the questions we bloggers asked. The answers are from my notes (not precise … so check the podcast for accurancy):
Q: What are some ways parents might be able to minimize the risk of mental disorders as their kids go off to school?
A: It’s best to establish some plans before packing up, certain strategies in place so that they don’t fall prey to the typical ways college kids handle the transition: isolating themselves in studies, self-medicating with alcohol, sleep problems. Parents need to have frank conversations with their kids. If the young person is particularly vulnerable, or has already struggled with a menal disorder, they need to minimize the disruption that occurs when going off to school. They should line up a psychotherapist or psychiatrist that they can visit, and have support systems that will assist them with the transition.

Q: How do you encourage students to ask for help?
A: Colleges should follow the models set forth by sex education, alcohol and drug awareness programs. The best way to remove the stigma is by peer to peer outreach. A college student is going to listen more to a peer who is knowledgeable on mental illness than a professional. So colleges need to do a better job of educating: of telling folks that the brain is an organ just like the lungs and heart, and mental disorders need to be treated, that one in four college students suffers from depression or a form of mental illness. The best way to remove the stigma of mental disorders to to normalize mental health. Stick with the health angle–how does a person stay healthy–not isolating the disorder (“you have bipolar disorder and are therefore different from your peers”).
Q: What tangible steps can a friend take to help someone who is depressed?
A: It’s important to know that no friend can be a therapist or psychiatrist. Friends can’t fix another’s problem. The person struggling with depression has to be the one who wants to get help. Without that, not much is possible in terms of treatment. The best thing a friend can do is to go to a psychologist or therapist and tell him what the friend is doing–to give a report of symptoms–and to find out the best resources. Then, after educating herself a bit, she should approach the firend in a non-confrontational way. She should try to turn any confrontation into a non-threatening and comfortable conversation. For example, she should try her best to keep it positive, and tell her why she feels a need to address it–because she cares about the friend and is concerned. Again, it’s best to focus on health, not disease: about how the brain is another organ, about ways that the friend can take care of her mental health.
Q: What are some signs a person is depressed or has a mental disorder?
A: The classic early signs are as follows:
* having difficulty concentrating,
* changes in appetite
* changes in sleep
* a feeling of persistent hopelessness
* a chronic adversarial attitude with parents or teachers
* suicidal idealizations
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