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In a Funk: Why Depression Awareness Month Matters

October is Depression Awareness Month and as the month draws to a close, I think it is important to review the key indicators of depression. This is a great opportunity to help move toward greater understanding and improve education about depression, its symptoms, prevalence, and some of the courses of treatment available. 

The idea behind designating a Depression Awareness Month is to inform people about this common mood disorder and guide those suffering to the resources necessary to improve their lives. In addition, it can benefit family members to have additional information available to help them understand what loved ones are going through. These annual observances also promote the larger goal of ending stigma for mental health issues.

WHAT DEPRESSION LOOKS AND FEELS LIKE

Depression can rob students of the motivation, energy, and inclination they need to achieve academic goals. It can make one feel too worn out to handle the ordinary responsibilities of daily life. It can be hard for family members to understand why someone who is depressed won't just snap out of it or cheer up.  It can even be difficult for one suffering from depression to understand why simple tasks like completing a homework assignment or taking out the trash become Herculean when one is depressed. A diagnosis can help everyone involved come to terms with what its happening and behave with greater empathy. Some of the symptoms, or diagnostic criteria, for depression include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Inability to focus, concentrate or make decisions
  • Changes in sleep: both fatigue and insomnia can be indicators of depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness and persistent pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt & worthlessness
  • Changes in eating: overeating or loss of appetite (noticeable weight loss/gain)
  •  Suicidal thoughts
  • Restlessness and irritability

Depression and Anxiety are different disorders, however, many people with depression experience symptoms of anxiety disorders. 

While only a licensed expert can diagnose depression, experiencing several of these symptoms at once is cause to consider a consultation with a professional.  Additionally, several reputable organizations provide free online depression screening tools that can give you an idea of whether or not you should seek professional help. 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Mental Health America
Psychology Today

THE NUMBERS
About 30% of college students report having depression and as the stigma surrounding mental health conditions decreases, more and more students are seeking help, rather than suffering in silence.  At it's worst, depression can lead to suicide and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. (with an estimated 300 million globally suffering). The World Health Organization states that nearly 800,000 people die by suicide annually. Around the world, depression is the most common cause of disability. Women are more likely than men to suffer from depression. 

STIGMA-BUSTING
Anti-stigma campaigns across the country have helped to create a climate where discussing mental health is no longer taboo. As a result, more people than ever be for e are seeking services and treatment. Unfortunately, the prevalence of depression seems to be increasing as well. This increase is seen most dramatically in university students who seem to be disproportionally struggling with mental health issues. 

TREATING DEPRESSION
Treatment for depression can consist of therapy, medication, or both. It can take time to find the most effective treatment for each individual and sometimes medication (antidepressants) can pose its own challenges. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are both commonly employed to treat depression. 

There are also strategies that individuals can use to help cope with depression. Seemingly simple things like getting regular exercise, eating well, sleeping enough can improve mood and wellness significantly. There is no substitute for the care of a professional, but as part of an overall care routine, they can really support therapy.

IF YOU THINK YOU MAY BE DEPRESSED
Depression is the world's leading cause of disability, according to world health experts and it is believed that 800,000 people commit suicide annually. If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support. If you are in crisis and need help, call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about, and all calls are confidential. You can also visit the Lifeline’s website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, I am available to help develop coping strategies that will put you on the path to feeling better. I work primarily with college students and young adults. Talking about your issues and developing an action plan can help you to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthier way. 

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