Approximately one out of four Americans, age 18 and older, suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
These Americans, who comprise 23 percent of the overall population, reflect the struggle of college-age students as they juggle family life, friendships, romantic endeavors, and perhaps even the death of a loved one. Academics and maintaining an independent existence also contributes to the stresses of juggling everyday life events.
“Over recent years, we have been seeing the student counseling service center deal with more challenging issues and (this) includes an increase in the presence of depression,” said Marshall Bloom, a CSUN counselor who has dealt with students for 30 years. “It’s been known that universities and college counseling centers nationwide have students who are presenting more severe emotional and psychological distress.”
According to the American College Health Association, 15 percent of college students have, at one time or another, been diagnosed with depression. And of that percentage, 34 percent were diagnosed as recently as last year, 37 percent of whom were taking medication for depression. About one percent of this ratio has attempted suicide more than once.
Depression is an illness that involves mind, body and mood. It changes the way its victims eat, sleep and interact in social as well as professional situations.
Symptoms also include persistent sadness or an “empty” mood, hopelessness, guilt, decreased energy, weight loss or gain, oversleeping, irritability, and even a weakened immune system.
More students are admitting to being diagnosed with depression, possibly because less of a stigma is now attached to the disease.
Still, researchers point to the ever-stressful perils of life as being instrumental in the rise of the illness.
“A loss of a boyfriend, an end of a relationship, a loss of a family member, that’s the age when grandparents pass away, a loss of an educational prospect can (also) precipitate depression,” said Mark Sergi, a psychology professor.
An educational prospect, Sergi noted, would consist of a student, or the parents, wanting that student to be a doctor or lawyer so badly. And when that student is realistically rejected from graduate school, a significant, depression-prompting loss in career goals persists.
Indeed, society’s demand on students has become increasingly greater.
One CSUN student fell into depression, as he felt overwhelmed with problems. He felt “there was nothing he could do to make it right.”
He said he had to do janitorial work during high school in order to help pay for his tuition because he lacked financial support from his family.
“The other kids always thought I was a rebel getting into trouble,” said a senior Chicano/a Studies major, who is active on campus and asked to remain anonymous.
He received a total of $300 from his father throughout his life for child support, as his father lived with another woman and supported her son. When he met his father after so many years, he realized his father was not the man he envisioned him to be. He was frail, tired-looking, and had turned back to alcohol for comfort. Soon after, his grandmother died. After that, he got into a car accident.
During this emotional time, he worked two jobs, took 15 units, and helped his girlfriend get her life back on track as he played a surrogate father to her son.
“I have to stay strong for everyone,” the student said. “But I’m scared to leave my house (sometimes) because then I have to be strong. I have to stay invincible.”
Other CSUN students battle the realities of depression too.
During his freshmen year, this student was having problems with his now ex-girlfriend, and got his hands on Zoloft. But he stopped taking it after he felt it was taking more than the depression away.
“It took away my depression but it took away my happiness too,” the CSUN student said. “I knew something was wrong when I felt sad, but I started smiling during my professor’s son’s funeral. I just looked down to hide my face.”
Now, the student said he smokes marijuana once in a while to relieve the day-to-day pain and stress of living. He has tried the counseling services at CSUN, but said that personally it did not work for him.
“A combination of counseling and antidepressants is a common intervention,” Sergi said.
Although the counseling service may not have worked for the Chicano/a studies student, CSUN’s counseling center has found ways to speak to students about depression and preventing suicide through a program called “The Blues Project.”
“No issue is too small or too great to help,” Bloom said.
Sergi said having a good social network is also important and can prevent instances of suicide.