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The invisible illness
It is considered an epidemic among college students. One in four students are affected by it during his or her college career. It is the No. 1 reason students drop out of college.
It, is depression.
Depression is a common problem on college campuses, affecting students of all ages and backgrounds. Forty-four percent of college students across America experience symptoms of depression, according to Healthline.
Symptoms of mental health issues like depression and anxiety can be brought on by a variety of stressors, according to Director of Counseling Services Kerry Patton. Certain traumatic events or even a family history of depression could trigger signs and symptoms.
“How someone becomes depressed is kind of like that million dollar question,” Patton said. “It can be from so many different things.”
Though students of all years experience depression symptoms, Patton said an increase in stress is something counselors often see in their patients.
“It’s difficult to transition at times from high school to college with an increase in independence and responsibility,” she said.
Sophomore William Bomentre said his friend sought help at the counseling center and found discussing her symptoms was very helpful.
“A friend of mine was having trouble at the beginning of last semester and she went to the health center,” he said. “But [she is] doing better now after talking to someone.”
But 75 percent of college students do not seek the mental health counseling they need, according to Healthline.
Patton said the most highly reported symptoms of students who seek counseling on campus are those of anxiety and depression. There is a wide range of signs of depression, so some students may not even realize they are feeling depressed or anxious before seeking professional help.
“It could be feeling just blah, having a hard time functioning,” Patton said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to figure out why someone might be feeling that way.”
Other symptoms of depression include lack of motivation, sleep disturbance and feeling hopeless, Patton said. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those suffering from depression may also have a sudden loss or increase in appetite, headaches or digestive problems, and even suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
Sophomore Connor Gilroy said he does not know anyone at Quinnipiac who suffers from depression, but he does think there is a negative stigma around mental issues in general.
“People don’t realize it’s a mental disorder that you physically can’t just get over,” Gilroy said.
Students experiencing signs of depression are more likely to binge drink, abuse drugs and engage in unprotected sex, according to Healthline. Sophomore Amanda Awley said she thinks students do things like binge drink to fit in rather than treat their depression.
“I did not see the appeal in drinking [last year] because it does not make your depression go away,” Awley said. “Fitting in though can help when it comes to feeling alone and many times having friends around can help get your mind off things way more than alcohol [can].”
Gilroy said he thinks the reason students binge drink can vary.
“I think most people here drink just to kind of loosen up. That’s the deal. You work hard all week and then you get to party and let loose,” he said. “Although I do know people that ‘drink to forget.’”
Some of the most common treatments for depression include talking with a counselor and prescription of antidepressant medications. Patton said the Health Center works in conjunction with counselors to get students any kind of medical attention they may need, and vice versa.
“[The nurses and doctor] might see someone for a sore throat but come to find out when they’re meeting with them in the exam room they’re feeling kind of anxious, so we triage them really kind of seamlessly [back and forth],” Patton said.
Although counselors try to figure out the best options for depressed students, Patton said sometimes taking a leave of absence is the best thing a student can do to recover from a mental health issue.
“Sometimes depression is too hard for the student and it’s too hard to manage academic and social [lives] so they make a decision to go home,” she said. “The university is great about supporting students who need to take that time to take care of their medical issue.”
Patton said a fair amount of students choose to take a leave of absence each semester, whether it is due to depression or an injury of some sort. However, she did not say that the university forces students to leave the university if they are severely depressed or anxious.
In fall 2011, a student was removed from the university due to her struggle with depression. The student sued the university for the refund of her tuition and for infliction of emotional distress. She won her case in early January, but the university continues to deny allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Patton did not comment on the recent case against the university, and said counseling services would not put a student on mandatory medical leave.
Bomentre was unhappy to find out that counseling services denied it would force a student to take a leave of absence.
“To be frank they’re wrong to deny that it happened,” he said. “You see…all these horrible things that happened [at other schools] and you have to think there has to be some sort of depression to cause those to happen.”
Patton said students who are experiencing signs of depression or who have friends displaying symptoms are encouraged to seek professional help. The counseling center is located on the Mount Carmel campus in the Health Center. Students can fill out an Intake Form on MyQ if they are interested in seeing a counselor on campus.
Photo by Megan Maher