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Section I–Common Health Problems - Depression

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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“Feeling depressed is so common among girls
in my dorm that I thought it was just a normal
part of college. When it got to be too much for me
to handle, I went to the Counseling Center.
With the counselor’s help, I’m coping with my moods
much better now.”

Mary L., University of Cincinnati

Depression is the most common reason college students go to their
school’s counseling service. Depression makes a person less able to manage
life. It affects a person’s mood, mind, body, and behaviors.

Signs & Symptoms

A person who is depressed has one or more of
the signs and symptoms listed below.

Feeling sad, hopeless, and helpless
Feeling guilty and/or worthless
Thinking negative thoughts
Having a loss of interest in things, such
as social activities, hobbies, and sex.
Sleeping too little or too much
Fatigue or loss of energy
Problems concentrating or making decisions
Ongoing physical symptoms, such as
headaches, chronic pain, or digestive problems that
don’t respond to treatment
Uncontrollable crying
Poor appetite with weight loss, or
overeating and weight gain
Thoughts of suicide or death

The number and severity of the symptoms vary from person to person.

Causes & Risk Factors

Major changes and stress that accompany college, including choosing career goals, leaving home, and the strain from trying to study and socialize at the same time
Obsessing about expenses
Abuse of alcohol, drugs, and some
Relationship changes, such as break ups, a family divorce, or the death of someone
Brain chemical imbalances. Also, some types of depression run in families.
Hormonal changes. This could be from taking birth control pills or using anabolic
steroids, which can cause changes in mood.
Lack of natural, unfiltered sunlight
between late fall and spring. This is called
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It may only affect some people that are prone to this disorder.
Holiday “blues”

Most likely, depression is caused by a mix
of: Family traits; brain chemical imbalances;
emotional issues; and other factors, like a medical
illness, such as multiple sclerosis.

In some people, events like extreme stress
and grief may cause depression. In others,
depression occurs even when life is going well.


Treatment includes medicines, psychotherapy, and other therapies that are
specific to the cause of the depression. Exposure to bright lights (similar
to sunlight) for depression that results from SAD can be helpful. {Note:
Some antidepressant medicines can increase the risk for suicidal thoughts
and behaviors, especially in children and adolescents. This risk may be
higher within the first days to a month after starting the medicine. Persons
who take antidepressants should be closely monitored.}

Questions to Ask

Have you just attempted suicide or are you
planning suicide? Do you have persistent thoughts of suicide or death?

Have you had a lot less interest or pleasure in
almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2

Have you been in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks,
and had any 4 of the following for at least 2 weeks?
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless,  guilty, slowed down or restless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Problems concentrating, thinking, remembering, or making
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired all of the time
  • Headaches or other aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Feeling anxious or worried

Has depression kept you from doing daily tasks for more than 2 weeks and
caused you to withdraw from normal activities?

Has the depression occurred as the result of any of the following?
  • Taking over-the-counter or a prescribed medication
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • A medical problem
  • Recent delivery of a baby

Are you feeling depressed now and do any of the following apply?
  • You have been depressed before and not received treatment.
  • You have been treated for depression in the past and it has returned.
  • You have taken medication for depression in the past.

During holiday times, do you do one or both of the following?
  • Withdraw from family and friends
  • Dwell on past holidays to the point that it interferes with your present life

Does the depression come with dark, cloudy weather or winter months and does it lift when spring comes?



Take medications as prescribed. Get your
doctor’s advice before you take over-the-counter herbs, such as
St. John’s Wort, especially if you take other medications.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. These can cause
or worsen depression. Drugs and alcohol can also make medicines
for depression less effective. Harmful side effects can occur
when drugs and/or alcohol are mixed with medicine.

Eat healthy foods. Eat at regular times.

Get some physical activity every day.

Talk to someone who will listen to the
tensions and frustrations you are feeling.

Try not to isolate yourself. Be
with people you trust and feel safe with, even though you feel
Do things you enjoy. Do something
that lets you express yourself. Draw. Paint. Write your thoughts
in a diary or journal.
Relax. Listen to soft music, take
a warm bath or shower. Do relaxation exercises.
Avoid stressful situations or
taking on added commitments when you feel depressed.
Keep an emergency number handy
(e.g., crisis hotline, trusted friend’s number, etc.) in case
you feel desperate.

Feeling better takes time. Don’t expect to just “snap out” of your

To Help A Friend Who Is Depressed

Help your friend get an
appropriate diagnosis. Make an initial appointment with a
professional and offer to take your friend.
Do not ignore remarks about
suicide. Report them, immediately, to a student advisor,
teacher, or health care provider.
Be aware of the type of medication
your friend needs to take and when it should be taken. If
necessary, alert your friend’s health care provider about any
side effects that you notice.
Be supportive. Depression is no
different from any other physical illness. It requires patience,
understanding, love, and encouragement. Encourage your friend to
continue with treatment and to see his or her health care
provider if there is no improvement.
Listen with care. Point out your
friend’s successes and attributes when he or she feels
worthless, helpless, or down about the future. Helping your
friend see previous successes can help give the confidence
needed to continue with treatment. Your friend doesn’t need you
to tell him or her what to do. Listening is very helpful.
Encourage your friend to go out
and do things with you or with others, such as to see a movie or
to do things your friend enjoyed in the past.  Don’t push,
though, or make too many demands.
Seek support from organizations
(see places listed below) that deal
with depression.

Encourage your friend
to talk about his or
her feelings

For Information, Contact:

Your school’s Student Counseling Service or Student Mental Health
Service. (Normally, these services are no cost to you.)

National Mental Health Association
800.969.NMHA (6642)

National Foundation for Depressive Illness,


National Mental Health Consumers’
Self-Help Clearinghouse


6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005