On the Inside

More college students than ever before are being diagnosed with depression.

Jamie VanGeest

While other high school students sat at lunch tables gossiping and talking about bright futures, Julia Trachy wanted to be alone.

Three or four times a week, Trachy, who is now a second-year nursing student, would sneak into her high school’s choir room, turn off the lights and cry.

Lunchtime became difficult when the thought of eating made her sick to her stomach. She had lost 20 pounds in two weeks. Trachy’s parents encouraged her to seek professional help.

Feeling despair isn’t uncommon for students at the University. According to the 2004 Student Health Assessment Survey, 16.2 percent of University students have been diagnosed with depression.

Nationwide, 14.9 percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression, according to the American College Health Association. Also, 60 percent of college students have felt hopeless one or more times.

“For many students, college can be an exciting time, but it can also be a very stressful time,” said David Fassler, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

Nursing graduate student Emilia Baldoni started feeling depressed as an undergraduate at Macalester College in St. Paul. After meeting her birthfather for the first time at the age of 20 and dealing with the stress of being a college student, Baldoni felt overwhelmed.

“I was just feeling more anxious about going out in public,” she said. “Crying, sleeping a lot. I would lose my temper a lot.”

Linda Muldoon, the senior psychologist for University Counseling and Consulting Services, said many of the students who come in to the facility have cases of depression caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. They constantly feel overwhelmed, she said.

Sometimes Trachy would feel frustrated by daily nuisances.

Like an untied shoelace.

“I would think, This is one more way that the world is punishing me,” she said.

Students with depression will also come in to UCCS if they are having relationship difficulties with partners, friends and family or are under academic stress.

Fassler, who is also the trustee at large on the board of the American Psychiatric Association, said, “There are kids who are dealing with depression, and they just can’t study; they wind up dropping out of courses.”

The number of students seeking counseling at the Mental Health Clinic at Boynton Health Service has increased since 1999.

During the 2004-2005 academic year, the clinic had 9,948 visits, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year.

The gender divide

Twice a week Trachy sat on the 11th floor of the Mayo Clinic, staring out the window.

She was there waiting to see her psychiatrist.

Students on campus are struggling with depression, but more women than men seek treatment for the disease.

In the United States, 6.1 percent of women with depression are now in therapy to treat the condition. Only 2.2 percent of men with depression are currently in therapy, according to the American College Health Association.

Nationwide, 15.7 percent of college women have been diagnosed with depression and 8.5 percent of men have been diagnosed.

While 9.9 percent of University women have been diagnosed with depression in the past 12 months, only 4.4 percent of men have been diagnosed.

Assistant Director of University Counseling and Consulting Services Glenn Hirsch said, “Our culture typically gives more flexibility or support for women talking about feelings and getting help than for men.”

Both men and women experience the standard symptoms of depression, but they differ in the ways they cope.

Rather than experience feelings of sadness, worthlessness and guilt, men are more likely to experience fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in work and hobbies and sleep disturbances, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To cope with depression, men are more likely than women to develop a dependence on alcohol or drugs. They are also more likely to become violently abusive.

Rather than face depression, men will often throw themselves into work to hide their depression from themselves. They are also more likely than women to engage in reckless behavior.

According to the American Family Physician Web site, women with depression are more likely than men to experience anxiety, eating disorders, increased appetite and weight gain.

Negative thoughts ran through Trachy’s head as she stared out the window, waiting for the appointment with her psychiatrist. She thought about suicide.

“I would wait on the 11th floor and I would just be like, I could so easily jump out of that window and not deal with this anymore,” Trachy said.

Suicide is the second largest killer of college students nationwide according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are four times more likely to succeed.

When depressed, it is more common for men than women to experience a decrease in their sexual drive.

The Mayo Clinic reported that men and women who suffer from depression are at increased risk for developing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Behavioral changes might also put them at higher risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.

The Mayo reports also found that in any given year, depressed men are more than twice as likely to die of any cause as nondepressed men.

The study showed depressed women also have an increased risk of dying compared to nondepressed women, but the disparity is not as great as in men.

Antidepressants

The first medication Trachy tried was the antidepressant Zoloft. She was hesitant to take the pills.

“I didn’t want to be on any medication because I should be able to control my mood. I should be able to make myself happy,” Trachy said.

After Trachy started on Zoloft, she noticed her mood improve.

According to the CDC, the percent of adults taking antidepressants almost tripled between 1988 and 1994 and between 1999 and 2000. Approximately 10 percent of women in the United States currently take antidepressants, while approximately 4 percent of men take them.

The National Hospital Medical Care Survey reports that antidepressants are the most frequently prescribed drugs for adults treated in physicians’ offices and hospital outpatient clinics.

According to the CDC, antidepressant use increased after the introduction of a new class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in 1988. Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil and Zoloft fall under this category of antidepressants.

SSRIs are popular compared with other antidepressants because their side effects are more manageable and they are considered safer and easier to use.

Although her mood improved, Trachy had trembles while she was on Zoloft. She wouldn’t hold her friend’s baby because she was afraid she might drop it, she said.

A year after she started on Zoloft, she decided to try the antidepressant Effexor. With Effexor, she didn’t experience the trembles.

While she was a student at Macalester College, Emilia Baldoni started seeing a therapist at the school’s mental health service. She also started taking an antidepressant.

Eventually, Baldoni felt she could handle stressful situations and was happier about life.

Besides depression, SSRIs are also used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The most common side effects for SSRIs are nausea, insomnia, dry mouth, nervousness, sexual problems and headaches.

Resources on campus

This week, the University launched a college mental health initiative to raise awareness about mental health and to promote mental health resources on campus.

Office of Student Affairs director Amelious Whyte said, “I think (the initiative) is a great idea because more students are coming to school with more mental health problems.”

For students dealing with depression, there are many helpful resources on campus.

The two places to receive counseling are the Mental Health Clinic at Boynton and UCSS.

Both locations offer mental health counseling. Hirsch said the main difference between the two is that UCSS cannot prescribe medication.

For students who feel like they are facing a crisis, UCCS offers walk-in counseling 8-11 a.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Center also offers different group therapy. Issues dealt with in the groups range from Women’s issues to students grieving the death of a parent.

UCCS encourages anyone struggling with depression or feeling stressed out to make an appointment.

There are two ways to access the Mental Health Clinic at Boynton, said Candy Price, a therapist who has worked at the clinic for 20 years.

A student can call the clinic and set up an appointment with a counselor. The student will have to wait a few days to be seen. If a student thinks their situation is urgent, they can walk in to or call the clinic. They will be seen within 24 hours.

The concerns of students who come to the clinic are broad-ranging and include depression and eating disorders.

Boynton Mental Health Clinic provides individual counseling and offers both a depression support group and an anxiety support group. The clinic also prescribes medication when appropriate, Price said.

Boynton also offers wellness classes that can help with depression. These classes, such as yoga and meditation, are free to students.

“We can come at depression from several different angles,” Price said.

Emilia Baldoni said it’s important to receive treatment for depression.

“Depression is something that you can’t just ignore. It’s not a character flaw; it’s a biochemical imbalance that affects your ability to handle or deal with situations,” she said.

The National Mental Health Association has a Web site with an online questionnaire that tests for symptoms of depression. The survey can be found at: www.depression-screening.org.