Freshman Katie Thompson moved into Stanford Residential College one month after her parents announced their divorce. The severe change in her home life and the already difficult acclimation to a new atmosphere caused her to feel unstable.
“It felt like everything had been ripped out from under me,” she said. “I couldn’t talk about any aspect of family without crying.”
Thompson learned she was experiencing depression, which recent studies have showed to be common in college students.
Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Though students’ rigorous course loads and jam-packed schedules are stressful enough, college also brings worries related to the transition to a new lifestyle.
Nearly 19.3 percent of University of Miami students who have visited the on-campus Counseling Center this year are experiencing signs of depression.
Alyson Aylward, a pre-doctoral intern at UM’s Counseling Center, said the most noticeable symptoms include excessive sadness, loss of interest or motivation, suicidal thoughts, a change in sleep patterns and a decrease in sex drive.
“It’s a big adjustment when people come to college,” she said. “There’s a lot of positive changes, but there’s also a lot of negative things that come with that.”
A study performed by PsychCentral, which serves as an online independent mental health social network, found that 44 percent of college students in the United States reported feeling symptoms of depression.
Similarly, the American College Health Association discovered that 30 percent of college students reported that in the past year, they have at some point felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”
Thompson was facing big changes. Six months later when the pain hadn’t let up, her psychologist, who had diagnosed Thompson with clinical depression, suggested she see a psychiatrist, who prescribed her Zoloft.
“I’ve used some of the on-campus resources, but it’s a big reason why I joined Zeta,” Thompson said.
She feels the tight-knit community of Zeta Tau Alpha has helped her to regain some of her happiness and joy.
Since August, 592 students have utilized UM’s Counseling Center. Of the 19.3 percent of them who have felt depressed, the majority exhibit symptoms of major depressive disorder, or major depression, according to Carolyn Cleveland, who also serves as a pre-doctoral intern at UM’s Counseling Center.
These diagnoses are not unique to the UM community.
Teresa Ferraro, a senior at the University of Maryland, was diagnosed with anxiety-related depression, among other disorders, at the age of 19, four years after her therapist first suspected it. At UMD, she joined the campus theater group and has since been able to overcome the majority of her depressive behaviors and thoughts.
“I am [happy] now, but it definitely took me the better part of two and a half years to get here,” Ferraro said. “It took me a while to admit that I needed them because in high school there was such a stigma.”
Major depression, also called clinical depression, is marked by a depressed mood most of the day, particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships. These symptoms are present every day for at least two weeks, according to WebMD.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, behind accidents including drunk-driving and drug overdoses. The No. 1 cause of these suicides is undiagnosed depressive disorders, according to Suicide.org.
Four out of every five young people who attempt suicide exhibit clear warning signs, and more than two-thirds of this population do not talk about their feelings.
At UM, students are encouraged to talk to the psychologists and psychiatrists at the Counseling Center if they are feeling down, and to use Canes Care for Canes if they wish to anonymously alert the university of a struggling peer, Cleveland said.
Aylward also suggested talking to a close friend, parent or residential assistant. Students can also schedule a same-day appointment if they are having a crisis by calling the office at (305) 284-5511.
If you are thinking about harming yourself or having thoughts of suicide, or if you know someone who is, seek help right away:
- Call your primary doctor or mental health care provider
- Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things
- Call your campus suicide or crisis hotline at 305-284-5511
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or TTY: 1-800-799-4 TTY (1-800-799-4889) to talk to a trained counselor
- Call your college counseling center or student health services
- If you are in crisis, make sure you are not left alone
- If someone else is in crisis, make sure he or she is not left alone