Jenny always had a passion for music, ice skating and painting. In high school, she was an honors student and President of French club. She was the center of her group of friends, a social butterfly and always good for a joke. She was just as happy watching movies with her mom as she was going out with her best friends. When she got to college though, very little made her happy.
She slept a lot, neglected phone calls from friends and stopped going out. She skipped class and her grades slipped for the first time in her life. Jenny, though fictional, represents the many students who find themselves depressed in college.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that one in four young adults will have an episode of depression by age 24. They are not certain why, but they can guess some of the reasons. Some suggest that depression is an inevitable response to a rough childhood or a tragic event. However, John Taylor, a psychologist from the MSU Counseling Center, disagreed with that notion. “You need to remember that we all get a little depressed sometimes. It’s normal, but our depression should not linger,” Taylor said.
What is known is that the primary age of onset of depression is young adulthood. For many this time period involves leaving high school and going to college.
[Taylor]College is one of the most common times to have a first episode of depression or anxiety. Students are at risk because they are going through a number of transitions: leaving home, changing daily routines and sleeping habits and losing the social support structure they are familiar with. Students add experimentation with alcohol and sexuality to their responsibilities of going to class and doing their homework. Stretching the limits becomes part of the college experience and some students end up feeling overwhelmed and lost. “It’s not like college is bad, but it’s a normal transition in life and it creates some stress,” Taylor said.
Many students find the number of self-defining questions they encounter while transitioning to college only adds to their stress level. Choosing a major is a confusing and agonizing decision for many, and larger decisions like that are only followed by more questions like “What are you going to do with your degree after you graduate?” As adults, many feel they should know the answers to those questions. “So many people don’t. And I really believe you shouldn’t have the answer for everything because that’s why you’re young and learning,” social work and psychology junior Teresa-Jo Barabe said. She said she sees a lot of people who are extremely depressed on MSU’s campus. It almost seems common — and it is.
While both genders are dealing with the same experiences and transitions, it is recorded that twice as many women are diagnosed with depression than men. “All we know is that women… get over to the Counseling Center more often,” Dr. Leigh Anne White of Olin Health Center’s Multicultural Psychiatric Services said. Psychologists have suggested that hormones might be the cause of the gendered disparity, but a conclusive answer has yet to be found. It is a national trend that about 70 percent of students seen in counseling centers are women, Taylor said.
Social theories surrounding the gendered differences suggest that depression is just as common in both genders, but it is more culturally acceptable for women to ask for help because of the way males and females are socialized. Women want to be in relationships. They tend to be communicative and feeling oriented. Consequently, females want to talk about their feelings and address the emotional problems they are facing.
On the other hand, men are socialized to be stoic, to be the sturdy oak. “As the saying goes, boys don’t cry. And, even though it’s the 21st century, this very much still operates. There’s a lot of homophobia in our culture,” Taylor said. Men who show sensitivity or expose their emotions are often afraid that they may be criticized or judged. It’s hard for men to come forward. Taylor said he thinks there are as many men who are depressed as women. But, their coping mechanisms are less outright and often, so are their symptoms.
While women will most likely experience sadness in moods, men will experience more physical symptoms. They may feel achy, fatigued, lack persistence and motivation. Taylor said men tend to turn to substance abuse and drinking to address their emotional difficulties.
Neither gender can do as well in classes when they are clinically depressed. That is why it is a particularly important issue for students. “Sometimes their energies are very low. People don’t get out of bed. Their attention and concentration are gone. It’s the reason that we need to intervene early because the terms go by so quickly,” White said. That is the reason behind MSU’s Olin Health Center and Counseling Center proactive efforts to identify students suffering from depression.
One of the initiatives happening on MSU’s campus to address depression is a quality improvement project at Olin Health Center. The project involves routinely screening students for mental health issues in order to better detect those who need help. Eventually, the project plans to screen up to 80 percent of students who come in to Olin. A mental health screening will become just another precaution like checking your blood pressure.
Another active program at MSU is the Patient Help Questionnaire Nine or PHQ9. The PHQ9 is a depression questionnaire from the MacArthur Initiative Toolkit that asks nine questions to evaluate if a student fits the criteria for depression. Part of the kit also deals with depression education. The questionnaire is done on the computer before a student’s appointment, either in the waiting room or online at home. There is a score criterion a student gets which determines if they have mild, moderate or severe depression.
But even with new programs such as the PHQ9, sometimes both Olin and the Counseling Center are lacking resources. The Counseling Center itself does the best it can with a very small staff. “There’s 13 of us — 13 to 46,000 plus [total MSU students]. It’s a real juggling act,” Taylor said. While the Counseling Center does have a training program, most young interns do not stay on after internships. When student needs are heavy, the Counseling Center has to ask other colleagues to step in.
[LG]The Counseling Center is open in the Student Services building Monday through Friday. It has a 24-7 phone line to help students who need immediate help and a website (www.couns.msu.edu) with self-help information. Students experiencing symptoms of depression should know they are not alone. According to www.teendepression.org, about 20 percent of teens will experience teen depression before they reach adulthood. Between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of teen depression at any one time. However, 80 to 90 percent of students suffering from depression fully recover by seeking out help, White said.
Depression seems to be taboo among students. Finance junior Laura Gourley said depression is something that is bottled up because college students think it is not normal. “I think it’s really sad that more people don’t get help for it. I think the simple fact that talking about it kind of alleviates it. But since people don’t talk about it, it tends to feed upon itself and it just gets worse and worse, ” Gourley said. Students instead tend to undress the word depression. People will casually say they are depressed when they are not.To be depressed is a mood disorder. It is not a word to throw around. For people who are depressed, the common usage of the word affects them, every day and every minute of their life. The person sitting next to you, your professor or friends could be depressed. “[Some students] come in touch with that word on a way different level then other people,” Barabe said.
Many college students do not see that they are just as at risk for depression as others. Jenny didn’t go to college expecting to be depressed. She didn’t even know what was wrong. She just lost touch with what made her happy, stopped being herself and she didn’t know why. But it doesn’t have to be that way.