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Everyone feels sad or overwhelmed sometimes. If you’ve been feeling bad for two weeks or more, or if your mood is starting to interfere with your course work, your job performance, or your relationships, you may be depressed.
According to the American College Health Association, 40 percent of college students report feeling “so depressed it was difficult to function” at least once during the year. If you are depressed, you’re not alone. It’s not your fault. And there are things you can do to feel better.
Signs of Depression
- Changes in the way you feel. You may feel hopeless, helpless, numb, pessimistic, irritable, or tearful.
- Changes in sleep. Are you sleeping too much or too little? Do you have trouble going back to sleep if you wake up in the night?
- Changes in appetite or weight.
- Changes in your energy level, especially if you are chronically fatigued.
- Changes in your view of yourself—feeling guilty, worthless, and incompetent.
- Changes in your ability to concentrate.
- Changes in your sense of pleasure. Things that used to be fun don’t interest you.
- Changes in your body. These include headaches, aches and pains, constipation, or diarrhea.
- Changes in your sense of time. Time seems to stretch out endlessly.
- Changes in your thinking. Your perspective has become more negative.
- Changes in your ability to solve problems. You feel helpless and powerless.
- Thoughts about self-injury. This can including cutting, burning, or even suicide.
Types of Depression
Major depression. Some people experience serious depressive symptoms that last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Chronic depression. Some people experience long-lasting depressive feelings.
Bipolar disorder. Some people veer from periods of wild enthusiasm and energy (mania) to periods of low energy and despair (depression).
Causes of Depression
Depression is a complex condition. Causes can include biological, genetic, psychological, and environment factors. Some common causes include:
- Neurotransmitters in the brain that may not function appropriately
- Family history of depression
- A traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, a disappointment, or a life change
Of course, sometimes depression occurs for no detectable reason at all.
Depression is treatable. Approximately 80 percent of people who seek treatment find improvement.
Research suggests the most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and counseling.
Medication for Depression
Non-habit forming antidepressant medications work by mediating biochemical problems and are significantly helpful for many people with depression. Research has shown approximately 75 percent of people with depression who are treated with antidepressants respond positively to the first medication tried.
Counseling for Depression
Counseling also assists in many ways, including helping you:
- Identify underlying contributors to your depression
- Learn techniques for coping with your stressors
- Modify your thinking patterns that contribute to depression
- Plan positive actions to feel more in control of your life
- Work through grief, trauma or underlying longstanding conflicts that contribute to your depression
- Work on any substance abuse problems that might intensify your depression
What You Can Do to Fight Depression
- Try to examine your thought patterns. With practice, you can tune into your thinking and disrupt self-negating, self-destructive thoughts.
- Healthy nutrition and sleep are important to your well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to many symptoms of depression. Eating a balanced diet gives you the energy to cope with the stresses you face. (Talk to a Health and Wellness nutrition counselor if you need help with meal planning.)
- Daily exercise is an effective way to alleviate depression. When you are engaged in vigorous physical activity that makes you feel competent and strong, it is hard to feel depressed. Of course, if you are severely depressed, it can be hard to feel good enough to exercise.
- Alcohol and many other drugs are central nervous system depressants. Stay away from these, as they may contribute to your depression.
- If you are taking an antidepressant, follow your doctor’s instructions exactly.
- Find ways to feel a little more in control of your situation. Talk things over with a friend to try to map out solutions to problems. Try to avoid automatically assuming that there’s nothing you can do.
- If you tend to “overthink” things, try to find a balance among activity, outer focus, and inner contemplation. Too much obsessing and ruminating can be depressing for anyone, as it leads to exaggerated feelings of guilt and responsibility for the negative.
- Express your emotions of anger and rage. If you bottle up strong feelings, you can feel out of control, which contributes to depression.
- Avoid isolating yourself, as this contributes to feelings of being alone, unlovable, and hopeless. Even if you don't feel like it, try to spend time around others.
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns