All Posts Tagged With: "depression"
Joshua Beharry works to improve mental health on campus
Moments before he jumped off Vancouver’s Oak Street Bridge, Joshua Beharry texted his brother. He was hoping the message would be delayed—his brother had notoriously bad cell reception—but he wanted his family to know what had happened. Then, after waiting for a break in traffic, he leaped over the railing and into the Fraser River. “It was terrifying,” says Beharry, now 25. But even after jumping, he didn’t regret it. “I was thinking ‘this is the right thing to do.’ There was no chance of me ever getting better.”
Just over three years later, Beharry is speaking out about his suicide attempt in hopes that people like him will get help without feeling stigmatized.
One woman reflects on her high school torment
When I read about Amanda Todd’s suicide, I was affected, not only because someone so young decided to take her life, but also because of how it reminded me of my own adolescence.
To the right is a photo of me at Todd’s age. By the time that picture was taken, I had been bullied practically every day for five years. It started with some older girls who thought my name, Ravanne, sounded funny. They would chase me, scream at me, and throw food at me. Although concerned classmates stood up for me, it never stopped.
As early as sixth grade, I was depressed and socially anxious. When I entered junior high school, I was afraid to talk to new people out of fear that they too would laugh at me. I did make some friends, but for every friend I made, at least two people would obsessively bully me.
Amanda Todd was attacked online and at school
There was an outpouring of condolences on social media following the suspected suicide of a British Columbia teenager who last month posted a gut-wrenching video to YouTube of her treatment at the hands of relentless bullies.
Coroner Barb McLintock said Thursday night that preliminary indications suggest Amanda Todd, 15, took her own life one day earlier.
Todd posted a haunting, black-and-white, nine-minute video on Sept. 7 in which she doesn’t speak, but holds up a series of white pieces of paper with brief sentences in black marker.
On the papers, the teen explains that as a Grade 7 student, she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts via webcam.
One year later, Todd said she got a message from him on Facebook, though she didn’t know how he knew her name or where to find her.
Anxiety and depression need to be reclassified
Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about efforts to improve the services available to students related to their psychological well-being on campuses. University presidents met for a workshop recently, and Queen’s University welcomed a new $1-million chair to study stigma.
Now, I am no mental health professional but I do know a few things about universities and have some experience with anxiety and depression.
If it were up to me, those trying to improve things on Canadian campuses would keep one crucial principle in mind: be careful how you talk about it.
First, let’s call depression and anxiety something other than “mental illness.”
Universities are “perfect incubators” for mental illness
From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings—on newsstands now. Story by Shanda Deziel.
Jonathan P. describes his second year at the University of British Columbia as “very, very rough.” He had five intensive reading and writing courses in international relations, plus volunteering commitments. But as an overachiever, he felt “on top of his game.” When he fell behind at week five, the Quebec City native decided he needed to work harder. “The obvious solution, to me,” says Jonathan, 21 at the time, “was to spend less time with friends, less time doing fun stuff, and study, study, study.” By week 10, as assignments piled up, he was sleeping three hours a night. “I woke up one morning,” he says, “and I just didn’t have any taste for my studies and every day looked like it would pretty much never end.” He would call home crying. When he told his stepmom he wasn’t eating, she urged him to go to a doctor, who prescribed sleeping pills that got him through the semester. “When I was home for Christmas,” he says, “just the thought of going back to UBC, I was like, ‘Hell, no. This is not happening.’ ”
Group opposes psychiatry
The Students’ Association of Philosophy for Counsellors at the University of the Fraser Valley promoted their club at a recent mental health awareness week, reports The Cascade.
But links on the SAPC’s website show that they not only oppose psychiatry, but question whether mental illness even exists. They also offer a link to a YouTube video that says antidepressant medications—now taken by more than 10 per cent of American adults—may not work.
The club is partly a discussion group, but also offers free talk therapy from students who have studied philosophical counselling in a UFV class called Philosophy for Counsellors.
According to The Cascade: “philosophical counselling uses [philosophical] reasoning and logic to identify the initial premise upon which a person’s thoughts, beliefs, values and assumptions are founded. The thought processes of an individual are followed and examined for fallacies…”
Students just might not feel they have the time to seek help
Twent-five per cent of university students who seek medical attention on campus may be suffering from depression, according to a new study.
That’s a pretty high number, especially considering that the Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that only eight per cent of Canadians will ever suffer from clinical depression.
It’s probably fair to say that students with depression are more likely to visit their campus clinic, even if they don’t realize they’re suffering from depression.
According to the National Post “students often arrive at the campus clinic complaining of something physical—from fatigue to premature ejaculation — when the real underlying problem is psychological.”
“Frequently they don’t recognize these symptoms as symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression,” Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, director of student health services at McGill University told the paper.
Now, I’m assuming here, but I feel like most students rarely, if ever, visit health services; students just don’t have time to be sick.
So how many students are suffering in silence? Not feeling sick enough to go to the doctor or thinking that their sad feelings aren’t serious enough to merit medical attention. Could the real rate of depression among university students be even higher?
It’s definitely possible. According to a 2009 Globe and Mail story, around 15 per cent of students are diagnosed with a mental illness while they’re in university. And that number doesn’t count those who don’t seek treatment, which some researchers believe could be as many as half of those suffering, or those who are already receiving treatment.
This isn’t just a North American problem, researchers in Australia recently found that university students are five times more likely to suffer from mental illness than the rest of the population.
Suicide is the second biggest killer of young Canadians, after accidents, so this is clearly an important public health issue.
Our society has certainly come a long way when it comes to normalizing and treating mental illness but even depression is still stigmatized. More importantly, it’s high time to start looking into what’s causing students to have such high rates of depression and other mental illnesses.
The generation now entering university is the most anxious since the 1930s
By the time Victoria Ciciretto left her family’s home in Kleinburg, Ont., to live and study at the University of Toronto, the 18-year-old was already a seasoned world traveller. “I’d gone away for a month in Europe for summer school in Grade 10,” she says. “I took a Grade 12 course in Greece,” she adds. “And the year before last, I studied English in England.”
Presumably, moving 40 km away from home would be easy, but instead the arts and science student was filled with anxiety. “For my first week, I was like, ‘Oh my god, why would people say this is the most amazing time of your life?’ ”
She was nervous about living in a dorm, about classes and homework, about what major to choose and if she would make friends. There was a reason she could handle summers overseas, but was scared of university. “I had really good friends with me when I went travelling,” she says. “When I went to university, I didn’t know anybody.”
Ciciretto’s concerns are not unusual. For some, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and loneliness. For others, it’s a serious mental health issue—one that afflicts university-aged students more than any other age group.
Statistics Canada’s 2006 Community Health Survey of Mental Health and Well-being revealed that people aged 15 to 24 are most likely to experience anxiety disorders, with 6.5 per cent reporting an anxiety disorder in the past year. Studies in Canada and the U.S. have also shown that about 30 per cent of post-secondary students suffer from a mental health or substance abuse issue, compared to 18 per cent of the general population. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found today’s college students suffer from anxiety and depression at a higher rate than every generation since the 1930s.
Why all this stress during what’s supposed to be the most exciting time of life? Michael Van Ameringen, a professor in the department of psychiatry at McMaster University, explains that it may be timing. The co-director of the anxiety disorders clinic on campus since 1985 says students are at the peak age of susceptibility. “The university cohort is entering the age of risk for onset of psychological disorders,” he says. The first episodes of clinical depression, panic disorders and generalized anxiety typically manifest in the late teens or early twenties. That risk, paired with normal stress about the whole university or college experience, makes it the most vulnerable time.
Novelist Patricia Pearson swam through her undergraduate degree in her hometown of Toronto, but generalized anxiety disorder hit her during grad school, when she found herself alone in Chicago at the age of 23. In her book, A Brief History of Anxiety: Yours and Mine, she concludes that anxiety is more often a product of culture and circumstance (like loneliness) than something written in our biology. “There is data on the fact that in a country like Mexico, where there’s less onus on the individual and it’s more collective, anxiety doesn’t last as long,” she says.
The Mexican example and other cross-national psychological literature revealed that tight-knit communities with collective rituals in place—say churchgoing or fiestas—tended to be healthier. “You don’t feel as isolated and you don’t feel like it’s all about you,” she says. But university, Pearson points out, is often all about you; it’s a period of isolation from social supports.
In Generation Me, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, attributes anxiety to the individualism that characterizes the group born after the 1970s and she links it to unrealistic optimism. Yes, according to Twenge, there is such a thing as too much optimism: young people (“Generation Me”) have been brought up with unrealistic expectations about how their lives will turn out. “When things don’t happen the way they expect, they can hit anxiety and depression,” she says.
In other words, they have less access to the traditional social connections that promote mental health, such as closeness to family, stable relationships and a strong sense of community, so they’re more likely to experience anxiety disorders. If anxiety becomes disruptive, Twenge suggests students should pay a visit to the university counselling service, or talk to elders who have life experience. “But these rough periods can be a learning experience, too,” she says. “Things don’t have to be perfect all the time.”
Eleven per cent had thoughts of suicide or hurting themselves, half didn’t seek professional help
Stress over grades. Financial worries. Trouble sleeping. Feeling hopeless.
So much for those carefree college days. The vast majority of U.S. college students are feeling stressed these days, and significant numbers are at risk of depression, according to an Associated Press-mtvU poll
Eighty-five per cent of the students reported feeling stress in their daily lives in recent months, with worries about grades, school work, money and relationships the big culprits.
At the same time, 42 per cent said they had felt down, depressed or hopeless several days during the past two weeks, and 13 per cent showed signs of being at risk for at least mild depression, based on the students’ answers to a series of questions that medical practitioners use to diagnose depressive illness.
These students complained of trouble sleeping, having little energy or feeling down or hopeless – and most hadn’t gotten professional help.
Eleven per cent had had thoughts that they’d be better off dead or about hurting themselves.
That’s not just a case of the blues to be shrugged off by taking a break with Facebook or going for a workout.
Kristin Potts, who graduated from Penn State last week with a 4.0 in chemistry and will go on for a master’s, says she’s seen warning signs among fellow classmates.
“I had a couple friends who didn’t come out of their rooms very much,” she said. “I tried my hardest not to be like that, but I definitely saw it.”
At the University of Maryland in College Park, students were sobered by two suicides within two weeks this past semester.
“It was pretty scary,” says Aimee Mayer, a junior studying psychology. She says there’s lots of information and help available for students with mental disorders, but “there’s still a stigma associated with mental health issues and so a lot of people don’t want to go to those services. They feel like they’re less cool or something like that if they go. It’s like a sign of vulnerability.”
Megan Salame, a sophomore studying civil engineering at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., says she’d turn first to her parents if she felt depressed. But she hastened to add, “Depressed – I don’t really like to use that word because it sounds so negative.”
Mental health disorders like depression typically begin relatively early in life, doctors say, and college is a natural time for symptoms to emerge.
The AP-mtvU poll surveyed students at 40 U.S. colleges, exploring the students’ state of mind and the pressures they face, including strains from the tough economy. It found substantial numbers of students with symptoms of depression, many of them failing to receive professional help. Among the poll results:
- Nine per cent of students were at risk of moderate to severe depression. That’s in line with a recent medical study that found seven per cent of young people had depression.
- Almost a quarter of those with a parent who had lost a job during the school year showed signs of at least mild depression, more than twice the percentage of those who hadn’t had a parent lose a job. More than twice as many students whose parents had lost a job said they had seriously considered ending their own life, 13 per cent to five per cent.
- Among those who reported serious symptoms of moderate depression or worse, just over a quarter had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
- More than half of those who reported having seriously considered suicide at some point in the previous year had not received any treatment or counseling.
- Just a third of those with moderate symptoms of depression or worse had received any support or treatment from a counselor or mental health professional since starting college.
- Nearly half of those diagnosed with at least moderate symptoms weren’t familiar with counselling resources on campus.
Anne Marie Albano, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, said college is a “tender age” developmentally, a period when young adults start taking responsibility for their lives. They’re selecting careers, moving toward financial independence, establishing long-term relationships, perhaps marrying, having children.
The most troubling thing coming out of the AP-mtvU poll and other studies of young adults dealing with depression, she said, is that “they don’t get help” at a time when they’re just venturing off on their own.
“They have to learn to become their own monitors about their mental health and yet they have no training to do that,” she said.
Alison Malmon, whose older brother, Brian, committed suicide when she was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, decided to do something about it. After searching unsuccessfully for a group that she could bring to campus that would encourage students to talk about mental health issues and seek help, Malmon created Open Minds. That group has grown into the non-profit Active Minds, with chapters on more than more than 200 campuses.
Malmon, 27, executive director of the non-profit, says students don’t have to worry about how to draw the line between everyday blues and clinical depression.
“You don’t need to have a serious, diagnosable depression to go talk to someone,” she said. “If you feel down or if you feel like you’re not yourself, go talk to somebody about it.”
The AP-mtvU poll found that 84 per cent of students said they’d know where to turn for help if they were in serious emotional distress or thinking about hurting themselves. Most said they’d go first to friends or family. Twenty per cent said they’d try school counselling.
That means it may be up to friends and family to guide students toward professional help where warranted, said Malmon.
Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute for Mental Health, said students need to understand that depression is “a very treatable illness.”
Campus counselling centres are a good resource, he said, although they’re not all set up take care of serious mental illnesses.
“There should be somebody there who could at least assess this, and in some cases offer reassurance that ‘I’m sure you’ll feel better after exams are over,”‘ he said. Serious cases can be referred for treatment, he said – “and treatment works.”
Depressive disorders afflict an estimated 9.5 per cent of adult Americans in a given year, or about 20.9 million people. The median age for onset is 30.
According to the mental health institute, the first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications and medical conditions, such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression. If doctors rule out a medical cause, then they should conduct a psychological evaluation or refer the patient to a mental health professional.
The poll was conducted April 22 to May 4 by Edison Media Research and involved interviews with 2,240 undergraduate students ages 18-24 at four-year colleges. To protect privacy, the schools where the poll was conducted are not being identified, the students who responded were not asked for their names and people interviewed for this story were not part of the survey. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The TV network mtvU is operated by the MTV Networks division of Viacom and available at many colleges. MtvU’s sponsorship of the poll is related to its mental-health campaign “Half of Us,” which it runs with the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to reduce suicide among young people.
- Associated Press writers Ann Sanner in Washington and Genaro Armas in State College, Pa., AP Television Producer Faryl Ury and Multimedia Editor Kevin Vineys contributed to this report.