Depression Widespread on Campus

Some say counseling services lacking.

"On the Threshold of Eternity," by Vincent Van Gogh

“On the Threshold of Eternity,” by Vincent Van Gogh

By Erica L’Huillier

INDIANA — Kelly McMurtry, 19, Indiana University of Pennsylvania English major, is among the one in four Americans who experience a depressive episode by age 24

“I know other people must feel this way, but I still feel like there is something wrong with me,” McMurtry said in a March 18 interview.

Among her concerns was difficulty in meeting academic demands.

“I stopped caring,” she said. “I just stopped preparing for all of my classes.”

Symptoms that distinguish depression from everyday sadness last for more than two weeks and include frequent sad moods, loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, changes in appetite or weight, insomnia, oversleeping and difficulty concentrating, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Depression usually begins in late teens and early 20s. Almost 50 percent of college students suffer from “significant depression,” and 10 percent of college students seriously consider suicide, according to the American College Health Association.

According to a 2006 article in Social Work Today, stresses of the typical college experience, including increased independence, academic demands and financial constraints, can trigger depressive episodes and long-term depression.

“It feels heavy, and no matter what I do, I can’t get rid of it,” said IUP marketing major Quincy Tarvin, 20, in a March 18 interview. “I even lost the ambition to make myself feel better.”

An IUP counselor said such feelings are common around campus.

“Depression is one of the very common concerns students have,” said Sarah M. Hasker, an IUP clinical doctoral student who works at the IUP Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, in a March 17 telephone interview.

The center offers students 12 free and confidential counseling for individuals and unlimited sessions in groups. Treatment depends on the therapist, but Hasker said depression is among the more treatable mental disorders and that people who seek treatment usually improve.

The center also provides outreach programs through consultations and presentations for IUP classes, Greek organizations and other groups.

McMurtry said she was not comfortable seeing a mental health professional but sought services at the request of friends and family.

“My counselor was very nice, very sweet and not helpful at all,” said McMurtry, who attended about six counseling sessions on campus during the fall 2007 semester. “I felt like my problems were belittled just because I wasn’t contemplating suicide.”

She was discouraged by the fact that students are limited to 12 sessions at the counseling center.

“Depression a long-term problem, and they don’t offer a long-term solution,” said McMurtry.

McMurtry said that she had difficulty being open with a counselor.

According to the 2005 National College Health Assessment Survey, 3,570 of 17,000 students, or 21 percent, “seriously considered” committing suicide in the previous year.

Nearly half of all college students reported feeling so depressed that it was “difficult to function” in the past year, Hasker said.

Hasker said a common misconception about depressed students is that the problem is too mild to seek help or that it is “so severe that no one could help them.” She said that people who think they could be depressed should “definitely seek services.”

Depression is twice as likely to affect women, said Hasker. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

Erica L’Huillier, a junior majoring in journalism, is from Oil City.

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