Depression is the most common illness in the world, with over 20 million people in the U.S. alone suffering annually from it. And now, the rate of college students affected by depression is at an all time high.
According to the National College Health Assessment issued earlier this month, the rate of students reporting being diagnosed with depression has increased 56 percent in the last six years.
Martha Christiansen, director of Counseling and Consultation at Arizona State University, said that, of all the student clients coming to the center for an initial appointment, about 35 percent of their clients meet the criteria for a form of depression.
Christiansen also said that the amount of students coming to school with an existing diagnosis of clinical depression is on the rise, and that it is not possible to conclude a main cause of depression among college students, simply because depression occurs for many reasons.
College students are in the developmental stage of becoming adults and start feeling those pressures of maturity, whether it is being on their own for the first time, dealing with finances, feeling the stresses of classes and trying to graduate.
Depression may also be reaction to a very difficult personal situation, or serious loss (such as a relationship, a death of someone close), Christiansen said.
According to a 2004 survey by the American College Health Association, nearly half of all college students report feeling so depressed at some point in time that they have trouble functioning. Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association stated that 1 in 4 young adults will experience a depressive episode by the age of 24. Depression is also twice as common among females as males.
Karen Kibler, author of “The Second Chasm: A Soul’s Troubled Journey from Despair to Healing,” was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa 1977 when she had her first experiences with depression. Kibler, after experiencing a divorce and becoming a single parent said she started to feel “less like herself.”
“I thought I was nuts,” Kibler said. “I didn’t think like a normal person, I would do erratic things and could longer get through my day-to-day activities.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression can be characterized by a depressed mood for a long period of time or loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. Symptoms of depression can be seen in changes in sleep, appetite, or weight, and psychomotor activity; decreased energy; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, plans, or attempts.
Suicide is the third leading cause of deaths among people 14 – 24 years old and is the second leading cause of death among college students, according the American Psychiatric Association.
Individuals, not just students, may also attempt to respond to depression by using substances in an unhealthy way. A behavior referred to as “self-medication.” Individuals may use food, alcohol, and other drugs to attempt to self-treat feelings of depression and anxiety.
These methods are not effective and may mask the seriousness of the depression, or anxiety. For example, Christiansen said, alcohol is a depressant and may immediately numb the pain, but, eventually, use will lead to an emotional breakdown. Both alcohol and marijuana use can contribute to the depression and even lead to addiction.
Christiansen said many of the time the symptoms of someone who is depressed go completely over looked and the person suffering could seem totally normal, especially in the college environment.
Kibler went six years without telling anyone what she was feeling and instead kept it a secret, which is very common; most cases of depression go completely undiagnosed. Kibler said her closest friends and family members weren’t even aware of her problem. “We are very good at hiding it,” Kibler said.
For college students who are becoming adults, the fact that they are away from home and are expected to be self-sufficient–to deal with their problems themselves–is why many go to that “secret place of depression,” Kibler said.
Kibler said she saw herself slipping away and knew she was “going to disappear,” if she didn’t get help. It wasn’t until she randomly picked up the novel “The Cracker Factory” and found a part of herself in the main character who suffers from clinical depression that she took action in seeking counseling.
Now with her own book “The Second Chasm,” she hopes by telling her own story it might help someone else seek assistance.
The physicians at ASU Campus Health Service have began taking action against depression, and have begun a routinely check to see if their patients might be experiencing depression. This screening is done by asking the patients a series of questions based on a research supported instrument. Physicians then refer students assessed as depressed to counseling services for further assessment and treatment.
There are many different forms of treatment, not just medication, said Kathleen Todd, a psychotherapist and life coach. Todd said she recommends getting up and moving, “exercise is a great release.” She also recommends journaling, so one can begin to have a voice about what is going on with their lives. There are also support groups, and different types of therapy available for those who seek it.
The biggest thing, though, is awareness, Christiansen said. Simply put, students need to know what services are available to them and that help is out there.