Many college students in America deal with depression on a daily basis, with its presence proving to be near debilitating.
Mental health concerns are nothing new or surprising to college students. With the sudden stress, added responsibility and complicated social dynamics, many college students feel pressured and overwhelmed within the first couple of years.
In a survey of 95,761 students done by the American College Health Association, 23.2 percent of students suffer from anxiety, 31.8 percent from general stress and 15.4 percent from depression.
Depression in particular is a complicated matter for college students. Symptoms of the illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include hopelessness, lack of interest in activities, sleepless nights and decreased energy.
As college students are expected to be prepared for each class period of each day, to actively participate in every class period and rise to the occasion, hopelessness and lack of focus can prove debilitating to a college career.
Rachel Gaikema, a junior majoring in English at the University, knows this feeling exactly. “To be totally honest, I’ve struggled with [depression] for so long now that I’m not sure how much of my daily life is caused by depression, and how much of it is just me.
Gaikema spoke to the numbing nature of depression. “Every single day here at school, it takes all my energy just to get up, go to class, keep up. And there’s difficulty concentrating, which, as you can imagine, makes school extremely difficult. It’s not because I’m distracted, it’s more like there’s a fog in my brain. The harder I try to concentrate, or the deeper I try to think on something, the harder it gets,” she said.
Tim Dinger, director of the Student Counseling Center on campus, corroborates much of Gaikema’s experience.
“A student who is dealing with such issues has a very difficult time persisting at accomplishing complicated tasks like completing assignments and interacting with peers and professors. And if the student is having trouble sleeping, either too little or too much, you can imagine that as a recipe for failure.”
Dinger also proposed a few reasons for why these problems emerge during the college years. “I don’t have definitive info on ‘why now,’ but, developmentally, ages 18-22 are choked full of demands and stresses we associate with adulthood while the brain is still developing.”
“The college student is in process toward greater independence, and with that comes the demands of learning to live meaningfully,” Dinger said.
The process of working through depression is often debilitating, but both Dinger and Gaikema offered advice on what paths to take in learning to live through the struggles.
In his experience, Dinger tends toward “helping students come to terms with what they are experiencing as legitimate and not something that they need to simply work harder to overcome or become overly self-critical about.”
“My advice for them is to ask for help: confide in their friends, seek out a professional and to start taking care of their physical needs.
None of these are easy and can often times seem counter-intuitive,” said Dinger.
Gaikema offered a similar, if more personal view. “I won’t spout the usual ‘it’ll be okay’ nonsense. The hard reality is that, for many people, depression is a lifelong struggle. And whether or not you’ll feel better in this life again, sometimes you just need someone to acknowledge how much, in this moment, you’re not okay.”
Gaikema also said,“I think the most important thing I can think to say is this: if you can, reach out to someone, whoever that may be. A parent, a friend, a therapist, even a professor… Whatever is happening, ultimately, you’ll get through it. Day by day, whatever it takes, even if it hurts, you’ll get through.”