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Depression and College Students
Depression and College Students 5
Answers to college students’ frequently
asked questions about depressionany people experience the first symptoms of depression during their college years.
Unfortunately, many college students who have depression aren’t getting the help they
need. They may not know where to go for help, or they may believe that treatment won’t
help. Others don’t get help because they think their symptoms are just part of the typical
stress of college, or they worry about being judged if they seek mental health care.
In reality, Depression can affect your
academic performance in
Most colleges offer free or lowcost mental health services
college. Studies suggest that
college students who have
Depression is a medical illness and treatments can be very
depression are more likely to
smoke. Research suggests that
students with depression do not
Early diagnosis and treatment of depression can relieve
necessarily drink alcohol more
depression symptoms, prevent depression from returning,
heavily than other college
and help students succeed in college and after graduation.
students. But students with
depression, especially women, are
Q. What is depression
more likely to drink to get drunk and
A. Depression is a common but serious mental illness typically
experience problems related to alcohol
marked by sad or anxious feelings. Most college students
abuse, such as engaging in unsafe sex. It is
occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions usually
not uncommon for students who have depression
pass quickly—within a couple of days. Untreated
to selfmedicate with street drugs.
depression lasts for a long time, interferes with daytoday
Depression is also a major risk factor for suicide. Better
activities and is much more than just being “a little down”
diagnosis and treatment of depression can help reduce
or “feeling blue.”
30 percent of
suicide rates among college students. In the Fall 2009
ACHA–NCHA survey, about 6 percent of college students
Q. How does depression affect college
reported seriously considering suicide, and about 1 percent
reported attempting suicide in the previous year. Suicide is
A. In 2009, the American College Health AssociationNational
the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults
College Health Assessment (ACHANCHA)—a nationwide
“so depressed that
ages 15 to 24. Students should also be aware that the
survey of college students at 2 and 4year institutions—
warning signs can be different in men vs. women.
it was difficult
found that nearly 30 percent of college students reported
feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at
some time in the past year.
2Q. Are there different types of depression Q. What are the signs and symptoms of depression
A. Yes. The most common depressive disorders are: A. The symptoms of depression vary. If you are depressed, you may feel:
Major depressive disorder, also called major depression. The symptoms Sad
of major depression are disabling and interfere with everyday activities
such as studying, eating, and sleeping. People with this disorder may
have only one episode of major depression in their lifetimes. But more
often, depression comes back repeatedly.
Dysthymic disorder, also called dysthymia. Dysthymia is mild, chronic
depression. The symptoms of dysthymia last for a long time—2 years or
more. Dysthymia is less severe than major depression, but it can still
interfere with everyday activities. People with dysthymia may also
experience one or more episodes of major depression during their
Minor depression. Symptoms of minor depression are similar to major
depression and dysthymia, but they are less severe and/or are usually
You may also experience one
shorter term. Without treatment, however, people with minor depression
or more of the following:
are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder.
Loss of interest in activities
Other types of depression include:
you used to enjoy
Psychotic depression—severe depression accompanied by some form of
Lack of energy
psychosis, such as hallucinations and delusions
Problems concentrating, remembering information,
Seasonal affective disorder—depression that begins during the winter
or making decisions
months and lifts during spring and summer.
Problems falling sleep, staying asleep,
or sleeping too much
Loss of appetite or eating too much
Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive
problems that do not go away.
3Q. What causes depression Q. How is depression treated
A. Depression does not have a single cause. Several factors can lead A. A number of very effective treatments for depression are available. The
to depression. Some people carry genes that increase their risk of most common treatments are antidepressants and psychotherapy.
depression. But not all people with depression have these genes, and Some people find that a combination of antidepressants and
not all people with these genes have depression. Environment—your psychotherapy works best. A doctor or mental health care provider can
surroundings and life experiences, such as stress, also affects your help you find the treatment that’s right for you.
risk for depression. Stresses of college may include:
Q. What are antidepressants
Living away from family for the
A. Antidepressants work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters,
especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on
Missing family or friends
the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists have found that these
Feeling alone or isolated
particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure
Experiencing conflict in of the exact ways that they work.
Q. If a doctor prescribes an antidepressant, how
Facing new and sometimes
long will I have to take it
difficult school work
A. Always follow the directions of the doctor or health care provider when
Worrying about finances.
taking medication. You will need to take regular doses of antidepressants
and the full effect of these medications may not take effect for several
Q. How can I find out if I
weeks or months. Some people need to take antidepressants for a short
time. If your depression is longlasting or comes back repeatedly, you
A. The first step is to talk with a doctor or mental health care provider.
may need to take antidepressants longer.
He or she can perform an exam to help determine if you have
depression or if you have another health or mental health problem.
Q. What is psychotherapy
Some medical conditions or medications can produce symptoms
A. Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health care professional
similar to depression.
to treat a mental illness. Types of psychotherapy often used to treat
A doctor or mental health care provider will ask you about:
Cognitivebehavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people change negative
styles of thinking and behavior that may contribute to depression
Your history of depression
Interpersonal therapy (IPT), which helps people understand and work
Your family’s history of depression
through troubled personal relationships that may cause or worsen
Your medical history
Alcohol or drug use
Depending on the type and severity of your depression, a mental health
professional may recommend shortterm therapy, lasting 10 to 20 weeks,
Any thoughts of death or suicide.
or longerterm therapy.
4Q. How can I help myself if I am depressed
A. If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless.
But it is important to realize that these feelings are part of the illness.
Treatment can help you feel better.
To help yourself feel better:
Try to see a professional as soon as possible. Research shows that
getting treatment sooner rather than later can relieve symptoms
quicker and reduce the length of time treatment is needed.
Break up large tasks into small ones, and do what you can as you can.
Try not to do too many things at once.
Spend time with other people and talk to a friend or relative about
Do not make important decisions until you feel better. Discuss decisions
Q. If I think I may have depression, where can I
with others whom you trust and who know you well.
A. Most colleges provide mental health services through counseling centers,
Q. How can I help a friend who is depressed
student health centers, or both. Check out your college website for
A. If you suspect a friend may have depression, you can help him or her
get diagnosed and treated. You may need to help your friend find a
Counseling centers offer students free or very lowcost mental health
doctor, mental health care provider, or mental health services on your
services. Some counseling centers provide shortterm or longterm
counseling or psychotherapy, also called talk therapy. These centers may
You can also:
also refer you to mental health care providers in the community for
Offer support, understanding, patience and encouragement.
Talk to your friend and listen carefully.
Student health centers provide basic health care services to students at
little or no cost. A doctor or health care provider may be able to
Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your
diagnose and treat depression or refer you to other mental health
friend’s therapist or doctor.
Invite your friend out for walks, outings, and other activities. If they
If your college does not provide all of the mental health care you need, your
refuse keep trying, but don’t push.
insurance may cover additional mental health services. Many college students
have insurance through their colleges, parents, or employers. If you are Ensure that your friend gets to doctor’s appointments and encourage
insured, contact your insurance company to find out about your mental him or her to report any concerns about medications to their health
health care coverage. care professional.
Remind your friend that with time and professional treatment, the
depression will lift.
5Q. What if I or someone I know is in crisis Citations
A. If you are thinking about harming yourself or having thoughts of suicide, 1. Eisenberg D, Golberstein E, Gollust SE. Helpseeking and access to mental
or if you know someone who is, seek help right away. health care in a university student population. Medical Care. 2007;
Call your doctor or mental health care provider.
2. American College Health Association. American College Health Association
Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help,
National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary
or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.
Fall 2009. Linthicum, MD: American College Health Association; 2009.
Call your campus suicide or crisis hotline.
3. Eisenberg D, Gollust SE, Golberstein E, Hefner JL. Prevalence and
correlates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among university
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s tollfree, 24hour hotline
students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 2007; 77(4):534–542.
at 1800273TALK (18002738255) or TTY: 18007994TTY
(18007994889) to talk to a trained counselor.
4. Cranford JA, Eisenberg D, Serras AM. Substance use behaviors, mental
health problems, and use of mental health services in a probability
Call your college counseling center or student health services.
sample of college students. Addictive Behaviors. 2009; 34:134–145.
If you are in crisis, make sure you are not left alone.
5. Weitzman ER. Poor mental health, depression, and associations with
If someone else is in crisis, make sure he or she is not left alone.
alcohol consumption, harm, and abuse in a national sample of young
adults in college. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2004;
Q. How can research help college students who
6. Garlow SJ, Rosenberg J, Moore JD, Haas AP, Koestner B, Hendin H,
Nemeroff CB. Depression, desperation, and suicidal ideation in college
A. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) sponsors research on the
students: results from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
causes, diagnosis, and treatment of depression, including studies focused
College Screening Project at Emory University. Depression and Anxiety.
on adolescents and young adults. NIMH is sponsoring research on the
effectiveness of mental health programs for college students. NIMH is
also funding research on new strategies to help students adjust to college
7. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2009: With
life and to reduce suicidal thinking and behavior.
Special Feature on Medical Technology. Hyattsville, MD. 2010.
8. Mowbray CT, Megivern D, Mandiberg JM, Strauss S, Stein CH, Collins K,
Kopels S, Curlin C, Lett R. Campus mental health services:
recommendations for change. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 2006;
9. Hefner J, Eisenberg D. Social support and mental health among college
students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 2009; 79(4):491–499.
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