It's the season of bad habits!!
When was the last time you exercised? How's the healthy eating plan going? Keeping up with stress management strategies? To top it off let's add on the effect of setting the clocks back and losing that valuable sunlight and natural Vitamin D! Heading into the holidays is a challenging time of year, especially those who struggle with depression.
November signals many things. The upcoming holiday season, last 4-5 weeks of the semester, papers, finals, and college application due dates. Unfortunately for many, it's also connected to the onset or worsening of depressive symptoms. This time of year clients frequently spend time creating a success plan to plow through the winter season depression-free.
Every depressive experience is unique. Sidney, a second year college student that described feeling depressed since the 7th grade. In contrast Rob, a first year college student never had depressive symptoms until a career ending sports injury.
Successful plans for managing depression are also unique. High school senior Ben's plan included the combination of medication and group counseling. Lisa's severe depressive symptoms required inpatient treatment.
Depression is complicated because there are many causes. Susan's medical diagnosis with a thyroid disorder (hypothyroidism) led to an understanding of her depressive symptoms. To make it even more challenging, plenty of factors can maintain or worsen a depressive experience. Charles learned that alcohol and marijuana use made his symptoms of depression much worse.
Brain chemistry, health, medical conditions, life experiences, thinking, feeling, behavior, lifestyle choices can be key factors in depression. Clients usually identify symptoms that fall into 3 categories. These work off each other and influence the course and severity of depression.
- Thinking (Technical term: Cognition): Thoughts, types of thoughts, and patterns of thoughts. Most often a collection of negative thoughts that cycle in our mind about self, the social world, and the future. For a person challenged by depression they may believe these thoughts to be true despite contrary evidence (aka "Irrational Thoughts").
- Feeling (Technical Term: Affect/Mood): Sadness, anger, irritability, frustration, numbness, apathy
- Doing (Technical Term: Behavior): Social withdraw, avoidance of work or responsibilities, and decrease in self-care are examples of behaviors that are connected to depression. Alcohol & drug use, excessive sleep, and poor nutrition can maintain and worsen depression.
People get stuck in negative thinking, feeling, and doing patterns. If these negative patterns are practiced over time they become habits. Depression can occur alongside other psychological issues: Anxiety, anger, substance abuse, and eating disorders are examples people may report that accompanies their experience of depression.
Chronic depression is long lasting depression. People often describe it in terms of "always feeling this way for as long as I can remember." People describe weaving in and out of bouts of depression over weeks, months, or years. It's a challenge to shake this kind of depression and people that seek treatment are often prescribed medication to alleviate their symptoms.
Reactive depression occurs following an event. Adjustment to college, loss of a loved one, ending of a relationship, or a career ending injury are a few examples of events that may lead to depression.
Depressive symptoms fall across a range of severity: Whether chronic or reactive depression, symptoms are qualified according to severity (None-----Mild-----Moderate-----Severe). People challenged by depression may move from one area of this range to another during their experience where there symptoms become better or worse. Often the severity of depression dictates the level of care required for treatment.
Statistics on depression among high school and college students are alarming. Depression is among the top reasons students drop out of college. Check out this article for more specifics: http://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/top-5-mental-health-problems-facing-college-students/
Colleges are doing amazing work to increase awareness and services. While working on one campus I advised a student-led chapter of Active Minds, a national organization whose mission is to challenge the stigma associated with mental health on college campuses. Active Minds partners with colleges and offers incredible programs http://activeminds.org/our-programming/send-silence-packing
Take Action! Depression is treatable. The challenge is learning which approach or combination of approaches work best. People make progress at different paces so be patient, especially if medication is involved. By all means practice self-kindness daily! Start creating positive thinking and doing habits now. Check out this video to get started!
Know Key Approaches & Resources!
1. Psychotherapy/Counseling: One of the most effective ways of addressing depression is through talk therapy. Be mindful that there are different theoretical approaches to therapy and that people improve at different paces because everyone has a different experience of depression. Additionally therapy may be conducted individually (1:1) or in a group setting. Sessions are Confidential and therapists can only break confidentiality under specific emergency circumstances. Just because someone is depressed does not mean a therapist will have them hospitalized. Many students seek counseling services for depression and have successful experiences.
2. Medication: Psychiatrists are specialists in prescribing medication to treat depression. Know that there are many medications prescribed to treat depression. Not everyone who is depressed requires medication. Be mindful that medication for depression can be prescribed by many other types of doctors (family doctors) so it is important to ask a physician (who is not a psychiatrist) what their experience is in prescribing these medications.
3. Lifestyle Activity: Lifestyle plays a huge role in depression. Exercise, nutrition, meditation, socializing are a few examples of lifestyle activities that can help with depression. A coach, trainer, or other experienced professional can be helpful in co-creating lifestyle plans and maintaining accountability.
4. College campuses are loaded with resources to help. Counseling/Psychological Services, Health Centers, Dean of Students, Advisors, Faculty, Campus Safety/Police, Student Groups such as Active Minds) are examples of campus resources that can either provide a direct resource for help or direct you to the best campus resource. Check out the websites for these Centers (especially Counseling/Psychological Services) for great self-help resources. Many of them have anonymous, confidential online screenings for depression and their services are often free to enrolled students.
Dr. Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D., CMC helps college and high school students develop the character, resilience and success skills necessary to thrive in college and beyond. As President & Founder of Take On College, Dr. Joel empowers students to maximize their potential, college experience and return on tuition. Get a FREE copy of Dr. Joel’s Parent Handbook, “10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in College: The Non-Academic Secrets They Don’t Teach in Schools”