The Doctor's Complete College Girls' Health Guide
By Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Being burned out is really common. How can you tell If you have a real depression?
It's not easy to start a new phase in your life. And college is a new enough experience that you can definitely expect it to bring you down sometimes. But if depression has become a state of mind, rather than a temporary mood, and if the downs start to take over your life and make it difficult for you to function, you may have a problem.
It's time to get help if you have barricaded yourself in your room and set your stereo to repeat the saddest songs of the decade over and over again, or if you experience several of the following symptoms for more than a few weeks:
Constant feelings of sadness, anxiety, or "emptiness"
Loss of interest in activities that you used to like
Changes in sleep patterns (too much or not enough sleep)
Changes in appetite or weight (not eating and losing weight, or eating more and gaining weight)
Long periods of crying for no apparent reason
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness
Lethargy, lack of energy, and a constant feeling of being tired
Memory difficulties or problems concentrating
Inability to function normally in everyday activities
Preoccupation with death and/or suicide
Keep in mind that no two people are alike. Some people have all of these symptoms; others experience just a few. The key in figuring out if someone has a clinical depression lies in the intensity, persistence, and duration of these symptoms. Like Stephanie, many people who are depressed feel this way for weeks or months at a time.
What causes a clinical depression?
This is not an easy question to answer, because the causes can vary greatly from person to person. Oftentimes, they are rooted in a combination of factors that may include your genetic makeup, your brain biochemistry, your ability to handle stress and anxiety, and your environment. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any cause, or none that we can see, anyway.
Can stress cause depression?
It certainly can play a role, but everyone responds differently to stressful events. The stresses faced by Stephanie, for example, might not throw you or me into a depression, but they certainly snowballed into a depression for her. Consider another scenario: Two women move to New York City after graduating college. They finally find an apartment after an exhaustive search. They move in and settle into a routine, and two months later a lire guts the apartment. One woman develops a clinical depression; the other one feels upset but has no lasting symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to life's curveballs.
It's also true that everyone can learn coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. They may range from physical exercise to meditation to psychotherapy-with many variations on all of the above possible.
My grandmother was depressed all the time. Am I at risk?
Possibly-depression tends to run in families. So, if you have one or more close relatives with depression, you may be at higher risk. However, there are many people with a family history who won't ever experience a depression, so don't think you are doomed.
I've Heard that women get depressed more than men, is this true?
I'm sorry to say that it is. PMS, periods, pregnancy-they all happen to women and not to men. And unfortunately, no one cuts us a break when it comes to depression; women get depressed about twice as often as men. Nobody knows for sure why this is the case, but biology, hormones, and social roles/expectations have all been floated as possible explanations.
Is depression common among women in college?
It's certainly not uncommon. Although depression is most often diagnosed in women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four, depression rates seem to be on the rise at colleges across the country. A recent national college health survey reported that roughly thirteen percent of college women have been diagnosed with depression. Whether people are reporting it more or just feeling it more, depression is a real issue for women in college.
What's more, students feel more pressure and stress than they did fifteen years ago. According to a recent UCLA survey of college freshmen all over the country, close to forty percent of female students said that they often felt overwhelmed. These feelings may trigger a depressive episode or make certain students more vulnerable to depression.
I'm pretty sure that I have a clinical depression, what should I do?
In a nutshell: get help! If you think you might be depressed, you should seek a professional evaluation right away. Some people think the depression will pass on its own; others feel that going for help is only for weak and/or crazy people. If your symptoms have lasted for a while, these excuses are BS!
Many colleges have mental-health specialists at the health center that can help you. They can offer counseling sessions, prescribe medication if necessary, and follow your progress. If your health center does not offer these services, it can tell you where to go for help.
How is depression treated?
The silver lining in a cloud of depression is treatment. Depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses, and most people who go for treatment get better. Depression is usually treated with some combination of counseling and/or antidepressant medication.
If you do go on medication, expect to wait a few weeks before it kicks in. If you're not feeling better in a few weeks, or if side effects are bothering you, make sure to tell your therapist.