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Depression

Depression is a common, highly treatable illness that affects the way a person feels, both emotionally and physically. Depression can co-occur with anxiety disorders, eating disorders or substance abuse.

What is depression?

Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It can affect the way you eat, sleep, feel, and think about yourself, others, and the future. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood or feelings of sadness caused by the loss of a loved one or the break up of a relationship. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. Left untreated, depressive symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years, and the consequences can be deadly—depression is a common risk factor for suicide. With appropriate treatment, however, most people recover from depression.

A depressive disorder can be triggered by major life changes, traumatic events, hormonal changes, psychosocial stressors, or the presence of another illness. Substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders can co-occur with or be worsened by depression.

It is estimated that 10% of college students have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder. Women are almost twice as likely as men to become depressed.

Symptoms of depression

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Frequent irritability, anger, worry, agitation or anxiety
  • Hopelessness, pessimism or indifference
  • Loss of energy or persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Strong indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

It is common to feel some of these symptoms from time to time, but if you experience 5 or more of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, or if any of these symptoms interfere with work or social activities, you should consult with a doctor for a thorough examination.

Treatments for depression

Treatments for depression may include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of strategies. The right treatment is the one that you find works best for you. Some people have to try several treatments before they can make this determination. Once the right strategy has been determined, depression is extremely responsive to treatment. With proper care, approximately 80 percent of people with a depressive disorder experience significant improvement.

Taking care of yourself

Because depression affects clear thinking, it is not wise to try to overcome depression on your own by “pulling yourself together“ or waiting to “snap out of it.” If you are experiencing symptoms of depression that are more than the occasional blue mood or feelings of sadness associated with disappointment or rejection, seek help: Make an appointment with a doctor or counselor. Once you have begun the treatment recommended by your healthcare provider, you may also find it helpful to follow these strategies for improving your mood:

  • Exercise: Research indicates that walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, can significantly improve your mood.
  • Eat well: Eat well-balanced meals. Stay hydrated by drinking 4-8 glasses of water daily.
  • Stay active: Participate in activities, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Laugh: The physical act of laughter can often improve your mood. Watch a funny movie or read a funny book.
  • Express your feelings: Talk, journal, express yourself creatively.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or feel suicidal, call for help immediately! Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder is distinguished from typical depression by the predictability of its onset, usually in late autumn and remitting by early spring. Compared with other US cities, St. Louis receives a lower-than-average number of sunny days per year, which is most noticeable during the winter months. Sunlight stimulates the body’s production of serotonin and adrenaline, chemicals associated with alertness and activity, whereas darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, a chemical responsible for lethargy and social withdrawal. Lack of sufficient sunlight can cause an imbalance, and some people are more sensitive to this shift.

Symptoms of SAD often include low energy, difficulty waking and staying alert, increased carbohydrate craving, and weight gain.

Treatments for SAD

There are some simple, effective things you can do to help alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD. Spend more time outdoors, and increase your exercise regimen. Spend more time out of your room, preferably with friends or family, and try to do activities that will help you relax and have a good time. Use full-spectrum light bulbs, found at hardware stores, or a light therapy box, which can be found online. Avoid alcohol and other mood-altering, non-prescription drugs.

You can also consider meeting with a mental health counselor or psychiatrist at Mental Health Services. Both counseling and antidepressant medications have been proven to help alleviate SAD. You can make an appointment by calling 314-935-6695.

Helping someone who may be depressed

People who are depressed often do not recognize the symptoms in themselves. The most important thing anyone can do for someone who is depressed is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment. This may involve gently encouraging the person to find a doctor or counselor and make their first appointment. You may also want to offer to go with the person to Student Health Services or a local emergency room.

Offer emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, and encouragement. Engage the person in conversation and listen carefully. Resist the urge to function as a therapist or try to come up with answers to the person’s concerns: often the individual will just want someone to listen. Do not put down feelings the person expresses, but continue to encourage them to utilize the many resources available to them. If the person denies his or her depression, do not force the issue; this will only isolate them further.

More depression help

  • Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling and Resource Center has a 24-hour hotline at 314-935-5099. If you wish to speak with someone in person, their office is in the basement of Gregg Hall, 10 p.m. - 1 a.m. nightly.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health has information on depression and other common mental health disorders.
  • Screening for Mental Health has information on self-evaluation for a depressive disorder, as well as other mental health resources.