Depression

What is Depression and what causes it?

Everyone has experienced feeling down, blue, or "bummed" in their lifetime. At times, you may feel sad or overwhelmed due to life transitions or challenges in your life. At times you may feel sad for seemingly no apparent reason at all. But there is a difference between what is called clinical depression and the experiences of sadness, disappointment, and grief.

How can you tell the difference? A period of depressed mood is often related to stressful life events and may be a normal part of life; however, when the feelings of sadness become so intense, frequent, and prolonged that it significantly affects academic, social, and occupational functioning then you know the person is struggling with depression. In other words, it is the intensity, duration, frequency and the impact of these feelings on daily functioning that distinguish depression from ordinary or general unhappiness and normal reaction to life changes.

There are different kinds of depression. For example, there are some depressive symptoms that have a seasonal pattern (this is sometimes called Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD), in which people are more likely to feel depressed during the fall and winter months. There are also some types of depression (like Manic-Depression) in which depressive episodes alternate with manic or hypomanic episodes (e.g., feelings of euphoria and agitation).

Depression is typically caused by a combination of biological, genetic and psychological factors. A recent loss or death of someone close, family conflicts (including parents' divorce), or major life transitions (like enrolling into college as a First Year) can contribute to depression. There is some evidence that using alcohol and drugs may actually play a role in causing some depression. Sometimes, people use alcohol or drugs to "mask" their depression.

What are the signs of depression?

Depression affects people's emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral functioning in one way or another. A depressed person may dwell on negative thoughts, focus on unpleasant experiences and describe themselves as a failure. She or he may feel as though she/he is a burden to others. Generally, family members and friends may notice other changes in the person's life in addition to their sadness or unhappiness. Below are several symptoms you may see in someone who is depressed:

Symptoms of Depression

Example of symptoms

Emotional

  • Significantly depressed mood
  • Loss of pleasure in most or virtually all activities
  • Irritability
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt or self-blame

Cognitive

  • Loss of concentration
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Pessimistic thought

Physical

  • Changes in sleeping pattern (much more or much less)
  • Changes in appetite (much more or much less)
  • Loss of energy, fatigue
  • A lack of sexual desire

Behavioral

  • Withdrawal
  • Frequent tearfulness
  • Neglecting self-care and appearance
  • Neglecting responsibility - e.g. tardiness and skipping classes

Remember that not everyone who is depressed experiences all these symptoms. Symptoms and their intensity, duration, and frequency vary across individuals.

Is depression an indication of weakness?

No! Everyone is susceptible to depression. Just because you are depressed does not mean that you are weak. Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and Winston Churchill are only a few of the strong and famous people that history suggests struggled with depression. It is important to remember that depression is not the result of laziness, personal failure or a lack of will power. Young adults and college students are susceptible to depression while coping with various demands from school, family, friends, and work.

Depression is one of the most common concerns of students coming to the Student Counseling Service. It is not a condition that you can will or wish away, e.g. by telling yourself that "I just need to snap out of it," but, it is a treatable condition. Without treatment, depression may persist or get worse. Studies show that depression underlies the majority of suicides (some studies show that suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24). One way to prevent suicide is the early recognition and treatment of depression.

How can I help someone who is depressed?

Don't shame or blame the individual with depression. Remember that trying to make them "snap out of it," and other confrontational techniques, can make the situation worse. Don't try to "cheer up" the depressed person. Instead, stay supportive and let the person know that you are concerned about him or her. It is useful to listen in a manner that shows understanding of the individual's difficulties. Encourage the individual to seek counseling or to consult with a mental health professional for help. If the person has been thinking of suicide but will not seek assistance, you should consult with a mental health professional. Miami University students can contact the Student Counseling Service (SCS) for free consultation and counseling. We offer individual and group counseling for depression.

Treatment and Resources for Depression

Most depression can be treated through psychotherapy or medication. Some studies show that a combination of these interventions can be most effective. The treatment recommendations depend on the specific symptoms, duration and severity of symptoms. For example, the treatment of SAD typically includes the exposure to intense light under specific conditions. The treatment of Manic-Depression would need to take into account the manic or hypomanic episodes. In all, while all the depressive conditions are highly treatable and many people experience full recovery of their symptoms. However, treatment does require commitment of time and energy. Please contact a mental health professional if you have any questions or concerns about treatment.

If you are a Miami University student and would like to talk to a counselor or mental health professional about your sadness or depression, or if you would like to consult about someone you know who may be depressed, please call the Student Counseling Service at 529-4634, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Services are confidential.