By Gena Mangiaratti
Stressed college students are nothing new—they’re constantly busy juggling school work, extracurricular activities and social relationships. So while the recent upward trend in students who seek on-campus counseling may hint at an increase in stress levels, it is more likely that people have become more willing to seek help.
According to IC psychology professor Jeff Holmes, sometimes people would rather express themselves to someone who does not know their history and therefore cannot be judgmental.
What’s often hard to recognize is when feelings of distress cross the line into a disorder. In this case, professional help is not just beneficial, it is crucial.
A distinguishing feature of depression as opposed to feelings of sadness is when a person loses the ability to find pleasure in any aspect of his or her life. HelpGuide.org points out that instead of even feeling sadness, a person experiencing depression often feels “lifeless, empty and apathetic” and is unable to enjoy hobbies or social activities.
When people experience these symptoms, they may become hesitant to seek help. Other than the difficulty of knowing when to classify one’s state as that of depression, explains Hugh Stephenson, IC psychology professor, the condition is often connected to low self-esteem and internal anger.
Depending on feelings of guilt that may have sprung from events in a person’s life, one may not feel they deserve help. Others are turned away from the possibility of having to take medication. Some people with depression also experience a form of anxiety, a condition in which a person has an often-paralyzing fear of being judged or condemned. In this case, the last thing they want to do is present themselves as a “patient.”
Ally, a college freshman in Holyoke, Mass., made the decision to see a therapist when she realized she was experiencing prolonged feelings of distress and anxiety around the age of 12 or 13. She was finding it difficult to approach people or engage in social interaction, and frequently experienced stomachaches, nausea and excessive biting of her lip as a result of her nervousness. She avoided inviting friends over, knowing they would find it hard to deal with someone who was so anxious.
When she saw a psychologist, she was given a fill-in-the-bubble test with questions such as, “Have you lost interest in things you like to do?” and “Do you feel anxious in social situations?” The answer bubbles ranged from one-five, five being the most true. When she was given the results, she realized she tested in some of the highest numbers for anxiety.
Occasionally, Ally would try to express her struggles to certain friends. Their responses rarely consisted of little more than, “Oh, that sucks,” or, worse, “You’re just being emo.” It was then when she realized that she needed to speak to someone who would offer more interaction.
In addition to her decision to speak to a professional, she decided to take medication. When she was first diagnosed with depression, her primary care physician prescribed her the anti-depressant Paxil, which she describes as making “too tired to care.” She then tried Prozac, which caused her to feel suicidal.
In her sophomore year of high school, a registered nurse provided her with Lexapro. For a while, this was “golden” and even led her to start talking to her mother more.
When Lexapro stopped working, she was given Lamicatyl, which is a seizure medication that also functions as a mood stabilizer. This, Ally says, made her “emotionless.” It became even harder for her to connect with other people. “The whole of my personality is emotions,” she says. “Being an empath is part of me. Not being able to feel anything didn’t feel right.”
Eventually, Ally found Lamicatyl not to be worth its side effects, and her therapist agreed for her to stop taking it. She next tried hypnotherapy, which, along with counseling and willpower, brought her out of depression.
Ally, now 18, has been depression-free for eight months and is finding college to be a relatively accepting environment. “So far,” she says, “people have really got to know me instead of judging me.”
For others who receive a diagnosis of depression, she says, “Don’t beat yourself up. It’s going to leave mental scars over things you can’t fix. You can’t battle it on your own. You battle it on your own, you’re done.”
Gena Mangiaratti is a freshman journalism major who is actually not as stressed as the girl in this drawing. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.