Everyone feels a little "blue" or sad at times. While we use the word "depressed" these sad feelings are normal and tend to pass within a few hours or few days, unless they are in response to a death or another major loss.
What is depression?
The term "depression," as used by the mental health profession, defines more than just a periodic feeling of sadness, unhappiness, or the blues. Depression is a syndrome of symptoms that affect both:
- Physical functioning (appetite and/or sleep changes, psychomotor functioning, fatigue) and
- Psychological functioning (low mood; indecisiveness or difficulty concentrating; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, apathy, irritability; desire for social isolation.
Students may experience depression as:
- difficulty falling asleep
- loss of/or increase in appetite
- lack of concentration or motivation
- desire to be alone
- a feeling that things aren't as pleasurable as before
Depression can include feelings of sadness or irritability or both.
What causes depression?
The etiology of depression is unknown. Commonly held beliefs are that it is a result of decreased serotonin production in the brain, perhaps induced by stress or life events. There is evidence that some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to depression, inherited from their parents or extended family. Even with this predisposition, however, depression usually results from some stressor. For some, depression seems to come out of nowhere and there is no precipitating event or stressor that can be identified.
I think I may be depressed
Depression as described above is common in the overall U.S. population, affecting about 1 in 6 college students.
Changes in mood or functioning that last more than two weeks are considered problematic and should be reviewed with a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
See a mental health care provider if your symptoms strongly interfere with your functioning or if you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
There are numerous therapeutic treatments for depression including talk therapy, exercise and diet changes, and medications. A mental health care provider can review your options for treatment of depression.
Tips for Managing Depression:
- Increase self-care, including getting regular sleep, healthy and frequent meals, and exercise. This can help your body manage any stress that caused the depression or resulted from the depression itself.
"Sleep is known to be linked to depression, with a chronic shortage of sleep resulting in low mood and irritability. You know your sleep is adequate if you awaken feeling refreshed without (or before) the alarm. Not sure how many hours your body needs? Think about how much sleep you get each night during the second week of a vacation.
Poor nutrition is thought to increase the susceptibility to depression through low intake of B and D vitamins as well as calcium
Moderate exercise four times a week has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for treatment of mild to moderate depression after 6 months."
- Use meditation, relaxation techniques, and "play" to manage the stress of depression and reconnect with joy. Participate in those activities you can "get lost in" and that are soothing, things that you enjoyed as a child or adolescent, perhaps, that you may have lost touch with when you came to college.
- Confide in a trusted friend or family member. The experience of depression can be isolating, so sharing it with another can both lessen the isolation and provide much needed social support. Trusted others can also help us challenge the distorted thinking that can come with depression, including inappropriate guilt and low self-appreciation.
- Avoid alcohol and marijuana. Both are depressants and will increase any depressive symptoms you might be having
- Get more sunlight on your face, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. This will increase your body's production of vitamin D as well as increase your mood through natural light therapy. Wear sunscreen as needed
- Seek help from a professional for talk therapy or medication support for recovery if you find the above are not enough.