Understanding Depression

We all have our ups and downs depending on how our day or week is going. The transition from bad day, to rut, to clinical depression can be gradual and leave even the strongest person thinking, "What is wrong with me? I just have to try harder! Why am I so lazy? Why can't I get out of bed?" This guide will help you to understand the signs and treatment of clinical depression.

About Clinical Depression

Clinical depression is a medical illness similar to pneumonia that even the strongest person cannot overcome without treatment. Clinical depression is similar to heart disease and cancer in that all of us have a susceptibility to each. If we have a family history of one of these illnesses, our susceptibility increases. This explains how some develop clinical depression only after extraordinary stressors, and others develop clinical depression seemingly out of the blue. Clinical depression is a very common illness that affects approximately 3-5% of the population at any one time. There is a 20% chance of having an episode of clinical depression at some point in one's life. The percentages are similar for the general population and college students.

Treatment

Clinical depression is readily treatable with counseling and/or medication. Medication can correct the chemical imbalance (low levels of brain serotonin and norepinephrine) that is found in people with symptoms consistent with clinical depression. Unfortunately, fifty percent of people who have clinical depression never get help and suffer silently. Untreated, the average clinical depression can last 9-12 months. With treatment, people often report significant relief within 4-6 weeks.

Susceptibility

Clinical depression often has its first onset in people between the ages of 18 and 22. Many stressors are inherent to these years, which may contribute to the onset of clinical depression: separating physically and psychologically from ones family, managing the increase in freedom, dealing with the successes and disappointments that occur in academics, athletic, and extracurricular activities, developing and losing love relationships, experiencing death for the first time with the loss of a friend or family member, choosing a major, finding a job, leaving the familiarity and security of college for the real world.

Signs of Clinical Depression

  • Concentration is often impaired
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Increase in self-critical thoughts with a voice in the back of one's mind providing a constant barrage of harsh, negative statements
  • Sleep disturbance or unable to fall back to sleep
  • Feeling fatigued after 12 hours of sleep
  • Decrease in appetite or food loses its taste
  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness and/or hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Increased isolation
  • Missing deadlines or a drop in standards
  • Change in personality
  • Increased sexual promiscuity
  • Increased alcohol/drug use

If someone experiences most of the above symptoms for more than two weeks, there is a good chance they are suffering from clinical depression.

How to Help a Friend in Crisis

In general, when approaching a friend, it is most helpful to state what behaviors you have noticed that are of concern, (i.e. I noticed that you have not left your room for the past few days and you have not been going to class).

As noted in Signs of Clinical Depression, suicide ideation can be a symptom of depression. If you suspect that a friend is thinking about suicide, it is okay to ask about suicide directly. One does not increase the risk of suicide by asking about it, in fact, many people are relieved. It is important to get help for your friend if they are having serious suicidal thoughts.

  • Call the Counseling Center: 603-646-9442 (M-F, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
  • Call Safety & Security: 603-646-4000 (after hours and weekends)

A counselor can give advice if you are not sure how to approach a friend. Call the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns.