Lindsey Bitter spent the first few weeks of her freshman year at St. Thomas lying in bed, trying to summon the energy to get up and meet other students. She had dreamed of going to St. Thomas since she was young, but depression almost took that dream away.
“I was really excited when I first got to St. Thomas. But when my parents left me, I began to cry hysterically,” Bitter said. “I would go to my room and just lay in bed crying.”
Being away from home and in a new environment made her depression worse, she said.
“I remember one day I was sitting at Izzy’s with my mom and I started bawling,” Bitter said. “My mom said I could come back home and I told her she is supposed to say I have to stay here [at St. Thomas]. I felt physically ill, although nothing was wrong with me physically.”
This year, from July 1 to Oct. 26, St. Thomas’ Personal Counseling Center saw 63 students for depression. Almost 35 percent of students seeking counseling were seen for depression, according to the counseling center. The center also sees equal numbers of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Counseling center psychologist Steve Maurer said anxiety, stress and the seasons are some triggers of depression.
Depression increases in the fall
“[The counseling center] gets busy right about now and stays busy right until the end of the semester,” Maurer said.
Students who have depression might become more depressed during this time of year because of the lack of sunlight and additional stress and anxiety due to course workloads, he said.
Students who are depressed may notice they are receiving worse grades partly due to a lack of motivation and concentration. Sleep disturbances, changes in eating patterns and a lack of motivation to work out are also risk factors associated with depression, Maurer said.
Depression may also be triggered from the adjustment from high school to college, shifts in biochemistry or a breakup, Maurer said.
Senior Nina Haider was diagnosed with depression in July 2009 after a breakup with her boyfriend.
“I felt like I was always putting on a fake smile and that no one really cared to see through it,” Haider said.
Haider said she lost 20 pounds in a month-and-a-half and would wake up multiple times during the night.
“What made me get help was the fact that I physically had a break down,” Haider said. “I cried uncontrollably, collapsed to the floor and wanted to be locked away so that no one but my mom could get to me.”
The counseling center assesses a patient and develops a treatment plan based on that assessment, Maurer said.
“Some people come in with symptoms of depression, but they don’t have enough symptoms to be a clinical diagnosis,” he said. “As a counseling center, we do talk therapy.”
Talk therapy may involve cognitive behavioral therapy, which is figuring out the way people think that contributes to their depression.
The counseling center would recommend the patient get more exercise, sleep and build their social network because a lack of a social network is a cause and symptom of depression, Maurer said.
“I would see people and see them with their friends, and I would think I’m never going to make friends,” Bitter said.
Maurer said he might also refer a patient to Health Services.
Gail Conzemius, a nurse practitioner at the Student Health Services, said she also sees more students for depression at this time of year.
“When a student comes in we try to find out if the student has a family history of depression,” she said. “We also try to find what is triggering this [depression]. Then we determine lifestyle changes, such as no drinking or drug use because they are depressants.”
Medication can help regulate
Bitter and Haider were given medication to regulate their depression, which they say has helped immensely.
“Depression still affects my life when I forget to take my medicine,” Haider said. “When I forget it, I start to feel a little down. It is normal that when you are taking an anti-depressant and start to come off of it, you feel the way you did before. It can even cause suicidal thoughts in some cases, but I’m not too worried about it.”
Haider said depression affected her family the most.
“At one point my mother and I were screaming and fighing all the time because I didn’t know what was going on with me,” Haider said. “I hurt her and my family a lot because of all of my confusion. My mother and I are best friends, so to think about that really hurts.”
Bitter encourages other students who are experiencing symptoms of depression to seek help.
“Talking with someone about what you are going through works,” she said.
Rebekah Frank can be reached at email@example.com