Professionals offer help with depression
By Ted Heuring
graphic courtesy of The Samaritan Counseling Center.
Samaritan Counseling Center is a state certified
nonprofit mental health agency offering counseling
services for children, youth, adults, couples,
October is national depression awareness month. According to the Healthy Minds survey administered in April 2012 to 550 UW-Colleges students, 20 percent screened positive for major to moderate depression.
"The two major causes of depression for our students are stress and substance abuse," director of alcohol and other drug education at UW-Colleges Wendy Seegers said.
"There are two types of depression. One is what we would call situational depression; someone has something bad happen to them, for example the death of a loved one. The other example would be clinical depression and that is more of a medical issue where there is something definitely not right with the chemicals in the brain," mental health counselor Douglas Bisbee said.
Depression can affect performance in school, relationships, work, and overall attitude. Symptoms can range from poor appetite and difficulty sleeping and anxiety, all the way to drug abuse and thoughts of suicide. The Healthy Minds survey showed that 10.8 percent of students had reported thoughts of suicide in the past year.
The harsh Wisconsin climate can also cause depression symptoms.
"Some people get depression seasonally, there is a diagnosis for that called Seasonal Affective Disorder," Seegers said.
The lack of sunlight and cold weather can cause symptoms of depression. As a result, students may see their grades suffer without explanation during the winter months.
"We see that the age group [college students] is at a high risk for depression, some of that may be hormonal in nature, some of it may have to do with new stressors that a student faces…there are a lot of things about going to college that can act as stressors for individuals," psychology professor Kathy Immel said.
There are many factors students cite for causes of depression.
"Overloading school and activities, home situations, finances, being the first year of school can also be overwhelming,” student Angela Lewis said.
"Students can become overwhelmed with the amount of classwork that they have," student Eric Hinkel said.
"Stress during exams and midterms, working, social life, family life. It seems like sometimes you don't even have time to breathe," student Nate Stigen said.
Despite the prevalence of depression in our society the stigma involved is still a topic for discussion.
"We talk about that [the stigma] in my classes all the time and it's always interesting to get the student's perspectives. I talk about the fact that if you broke your leg you wouldn't hesitate to go to the doctor; if your friend asked 'what's wrong?' you wouldn't hesitate to tell them... I think part of the issue is that people are afraid that others will treat them differently," Immel said.
"You don't want to be perceived as weak minded," Hinkel said.
"People don't really want to put their burdens on somebody else and they might feel kind of ashamed," student Trevor Krizenesky said.
Other reasons students do not seek help include financial and confidentiality concerns. According to the Healthy Minds survey, 31 percent of students believe it's too expensive or have no insurance, and 16 percent worried their actions will be documented on academic or medical records.
"Students who come in do not have to pay anything extra to see us. Typically we are allowed to see a student up to six sessions and sometimes we go more if it is more serious. It is a very professional service, my colleague [Hannah Keesler] and I are both state licensed therapists. It is completely confidential it is in no way connected to student's academic records in any way shape or form," Bisbee said.
"I've used the services on campus. I was dealing with some family issues and the counselors were fantastic and it really helped me," Lewis said.
Counselors stress the importance of balancing stressful responsibilities with healthy activities.
"It's important for students to find balance in their lives. When we talk with students, there are three things that I talk to them about, diet, sleep, and exercise... you don't necessarily have to go out and join a health club, but I am a big proponent of the brisk walk. Get out their everyday and be physically active," Bisbee said.
Medication is not prescribed by the counselors on campus, a psychiatrist or family doctor is needed to provide those prescriptions. However medication is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to dealing with depression.
"Ever with our best medications alone you have about a 60-65 percent effectiveness rate when you combine it with therapy you are probably pushing 85-90 percent success rate. The problem with medication by itself is that when people stop taking medication they will often relapse, so when you combine that [medication] with therapy you lower that risk. You give the person some tools with therapy so they can use them to effectively deal with the situation themselves and empower themselves," Immel said.
"Life is not a sprint, it's a marathon…it's better to come in [for help] sooner than later. We all probably kind of drag our feet going to the doctor in general and I think with mental health it's even worse sometimes. We really wait until it's a crisis, I would encourage students [to seek help] especially since it doesn't cost anything," Bisbee said.
More resources for depression and substance abuse...