HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

 Section V - Mental Health Topics

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Depression

Depression is more than just the blues or the blahs. It makes a person less able to manage life. It affects a persons mood, mind, body, and behaviors. Depression can be as much an illness as diabetes, etc.

Causes

bullet Brain chemical imbalances
bullet Life changes, such as going away to college, the ending of a relationship, retirement, loss of a job or death of a loved one. (See “Grief/Bereavement”.)
bullet Concern about one’s grades and/or workload
bullet Worrying about money
bullet Medical illness, surgery, or disability
bullet Abuse of alcohol, drugs, and some medications
bullet Lack of natural, unfiltered sunlight between late fall and spring in some sensitive people. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
bullet Holiday “blues”
bullet Low self-esteem
Depression is a state of sadness and despair.

Symptoms

bullet Ongoing feelings of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness. Crying.
bullet Loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure, including sex
bullet Fatigue. Loss of energy or enthusiasm.
bullet Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
bullet Anger, anxiety, or irritability
bullet Physical symptoms, such as headaches or digestive problems that don’t respond to treatment and don’t let up
bullet Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

Whatever the cause, depression can be treated. Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy, and other therapies specific to the cause of the depression, such as exposure to bright light (similar to sunlight) for depression that results from SAD.

Questions to Ask

Have you just attempted suicide, are you making plans for suicide or do you have repeated thoughts of suicide or death?

Yes. Get Emergency Care.

No

 
Have you noticed a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day for at least two weeks?
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 

Have you been in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day and have you had any of these problems for at least two weeks?

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, guilty, slowed down, or restless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Problems concentrating, thinking, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feeling tired all the time. Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Headaches or other aches and pains
  • Digestive or sexual problems
  • Feeling worried or anxious
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 
Has depression interfered with daily activities for more than two weeks? Have you withdrawn from normal activities during this time?
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 

Has the depression occurred with any of the following?

  • Recent delivery of a baby
  • A medical problem
  • Taking over-the-counter or prescription medicine
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

No

 

Are you depressed now and do any of the following apply?

  • You have been depressed before and not gotten treatment.
  • You have been treated for depression in the past and it has returned.
  • You have taken medication for depression in the past.
  • You have a family history of depression in a close relative.
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 
Does the depression come with dark, cloudy weather or winter months and does lift when spring comes?
Yes. Call Physician.

No

 
During holiday times, do you withdraw from family and friends or dwell on past holidays to the point that it interferes with your present life?
Yes. Call Counselor.

No

 

 

Self-Help

bullet 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.
bullet Don’t use illegal drugs. Limit alcohol. These can cause or worsen depression. Drugs and alcohol can also make medicines for depression less effective. Harmful side effects can happen when alcohol and/or drugs are mixed with medicine.
bullet Eat healthy foods. Eat at regular times.
bullet Exercise regularly.
bullet Try not to isolate yourself. Be with people you trust and feel safe with, even though you feel down.
bullet Do something you enjoy.
bullet Relax. Listen to upbeat music. Read a good book. Take a warm bath or shower. Do relaxation exercises.
bullet Talk to a friend, relative, co-worker or anyone who will let you express the tensions and frustrations you are feeling.
bullet Keep an emergency number handy (e.g., crisis hotline, trusted friend’s number, etc.) in case you feel desperate.
bullet If suicidal thoughts are present, remove any weapons, pills, etc. that could be used for suicide and get medical help.

What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative

bullet The most important thing you can do is to get your friend or relative to seek professional treatment. Their illness, especially if it is severe and has persisted for a long time, will not go away on its own. Try to give positive feedback to the person about seeking help.
bullet Help them get treatment. You may need to make the initial appointment with a professional. You may need to take them to the appointment.
bullet Be observant. Do not ignore suicide references. These should be reported to the person’s therapist or physician immediately.
bullet Know their medication. You should alert their physician about any side effects that you notice when they take medication.
bullet Be supportive. Depression requires the patience, understanding, love and encouragement of the person’s loved ones and friends.
bullet Talk to them. Encourage the depressed person to talk about their feelings. Helping them see that they have succeeded at something or are “worthwhile” in other matters can help give them the confidence they need to continue with treatment.
bullet Encourage the person to go out and do things with you or with others, such as to see a movie or attend a social event. Do things the depressed person enjoyed in the past.
bullet Seek support from organizations and self-help groups that deal with depression. (See “National Resources”.)
Be with positive people. They’ll lift your morale.

Copyright 2004, 5th Edition, American Institute for Preventive Medicine. All rights reserved.

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March 16, 2007