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Friday, April 12, 2024
Stressing the importance of discussion

Depressed student

Stressing the importance of discussion

UW-Madison sophomore Matt Honig had struggled with severe depression since high school, each successive episode worsening, until finally during his freshman year of college, he decided to do something about it.

""[I was] drained of all energy and didn't see the point of anything and I knew there were things I should have been doing but couldn't bring myself to do them because it seemed insignificant,"" Honig said.

These symptoms, according to Dennis Christoffersen, a licensed psychologist and clinical director of general counseling and 24 hour crisis services at University Health Services, are not uncommon. During a depressive episode, a person will often experience loss of enjoyment, loss of energy, feelings of guilt and sleep disruption. During one of his depressive episodes, Honig's days consisted of waking up late, skipping class, avoiding homework and then forcing himself to socialize despite his inability to enjoy himself.

In 2008, the American College Health Association conducted a survey, the National College Health Assessment II, asking students what top 10 factors negatively impacted their academic performance. Seven out of those 10 had to do with psychological and stress-related concerns; number one was stress, second was sleep problems and third, anxiety. When students were asked specifically about mental health concerns, over 87 percent said they had felt overwhelmed by demands, almost 49 percent experienced overwhelming anxiety, and over 30 percent said they had been so depressed it was hard to function. These findings are an indicator that students across the country share pressures involving stress and anxiety which contribute to depression, yet despite these high numbers, society often views depression and anxiety as a taboo subject.

""People don't understand it,"" Honig said. ""The people that don't have [depression] don't understand it. People generally are scared of things they don't understand, which cause them to make value judgments.""

UW-Madison sophomore Rachel Landsman, a psychology major, recognized the stigma associated with depression and anxiety because she had witnessed her friend's denial once diagnosed.

""The majority of people don't have depression and it's just like every other thing, where if you're in the minority there is going to be some stigma associated with it,"" she said.

A 2006 study suggested that there has been a small but significant increase in students seeking counseling services despite the lack of discussion surrounding depression and anxiety.

According to Christoffersen, the study suggested that ""problems college students are presenting to college counseling centers with have, in fact, seemed to have increased in both severity and in length of time.""

He said students today are struggling with such long and severe bouts of depression that they are choosing to seek counseling despite feeling embarrassed about needing help.

Yet many students are still reluctant to talk about depression and anxiety despite the mounting stressors of school and increased number of students visiting counseling centers.

""[Depression] draws people away from their family and friends so people have negative connotations because they are losing their friends,"" Landsman said, whose friend also grew distant throughout high school.

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Psychologists agree that depression and anxiety should become more open to feel depressed or anxious because they say it is normal from time to time and that all students with such high stressors have at one point in their lives been in a depressed or anxious state.

In addition, all students face stressors related to competition in academia and a lack of jobs. According to Christoffersen, diversity within a campus must be taken into account.

""When people say ‘college students' they lump them all together and it really depends. Add into the mix ethnicities, race,"" Christoffersen said. ""They all figure in to how students experience stress, how they show it. It is important to understand and appreciate that students aren't this homogenous group, that they are actually made up of distinct subgroups of unique individuals.""

These distinct backgrounds should be addressed when understanding how students deal with stressors. Christoffersen reiterated that people vary in terms of vulnerability to stress as well as how they are able to cope with it. Honig believed this shared feeling of stress that most students can relate to will encourage those suffering from anxiety and depression to come forward.

""Talk to people, to your family and friends about [depression], people you trust,"" Honig said. ""It's worth seeing somebody regardless if you're not into the idea because I know that a lot of people, they just don't want to make that jump into seeing somebody and to admitting they have a problem. But so many people have depression; it's such a common problem.""

Although Honig preferred talking with loved ones, there are alternatives as well as additional methods of prevention. UHS provides counseling services that include individual and group sessions, health and awareness, yoga, dieticians, physical therapists and a 24-hour crisis hotline along with many other options. If staying anonymous is preferred, there is SPILL, a blog-based website started by a UW-Madison student where individuals can post anything from a bad day at work to worries about an upcoming exam.

""People feel ashamed about having something not right with them, but they shouldn't be because there is no shame in having a medical condition,"" Honig said. ""People can say whatever they want about it, it's a real disorder.""

MTV recently partnered with the JET Foundation, an organization focusing on depression and suicide rates among teens, to survey young adults about mental health. The results reflect Honig's attitude toward facilitating discussion.

""The survey found that 69 percent said they would not consider counseling. When asked why not, there were three reasons,"" Christoffersen said. ""The first was that people hoped it would go away, kind of wishful thinking. The second problem was that they felt embarrassed, having people finding out they were in counseling. The third was that they had doubts about whether counseling would work.""

While counseling ultimately helped Landsman's friend, she also became uncomfortable discussing the topic.

""[My friend] would talk about how sad she was and how she hated life. Then she was diagnosed with depression and stopped talking about it,"" Landsman said. ""I think once she was officially diagnosed she didn't want people to associate her with her depression because it wasn't a big obstacle in her life anymore. She didn't want to be an outcast.""

Honig said he believes people should promote discussion regarding depression but also agreed that once a person is better it should be their decision whether to be vocal about their depression.

""Help yourself basically; it's always good to talk about it and it's good to force yourself to get out there even when you don't want to be outside or with people."" Honig said.

No matter the method, Honig advocated that society must strip depression and anxiety of their negative connotations and promote an open forum regarding these diseases so people can take command of their depression and no longer be defined by it.

""Now, if there is a stressor in my life that is getting me down, I just try to take it in stride and look at things in a more positive light,"" Honig said. ""What helped me get through the depression was the idea that it is important to keep moving forward.""





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