Diagnosing depression at USF

Exams, social events and work hours have always been priorities for college students. But now counseling sessions are making their way into more students’ schedules.

Students are adjusting their schedules to treat symptoms of depression that are spreading across college campuses, according to a report from the National Mental Health Association.

The report states that 10 percent of college students across the nation were diagnosed with depression in 2001, whereas only 7 percent were diagnosed the previous year.

And while the issues that contribute to depression such as academic demands, family dysfunction, and financial issues, remain the same, more students are accepting that they have the psychological condition.

Dale Hicks, associate director of the Counseling Center for Human Development at USF, said one of the main reasons depression is at its highest for college students is “simply because they’re admitting to it.”

In the past, Hicks said students were hesitant to seek advice because it was difficult to come to terms with behavior considered abnormal, such as lack of interest in daily activities, loss of energy and feelings of sadness.

“More students are acceptable to depression, and so they come into counseling,” Hicks said. “They don’t feel badly about coming in to get help.”

Counseling at college campuses has become a first choice of assistance for students experiencing depression according to a report in Psychology Today’s March issue.

In 2001, about 1,700 students received individual counseling at USF, Hicks said, an increase of 100 students from the previous year. But the numbers reflect those seeking help for not only depression, but also personal concerns including anxiety disorders and relationship problems.

“We see students for about virtually everything,” Hicks said.

Sophomore Allison Brauner said she is not surprised that depression and anxiety are increasing among college campuses, especially for freshmen.

“It’s the whole independence and responsibility of being on your own,” Brauner said.

The NMHA quoted a study that 30 percent of first-year students tend to feel overwhelmed.

“They definitely feel a lot more worried,” said Brauner, remembering her freshman year at North Carolina State. Brauner said she feels less stress attending USF because it’s closer to home.

And as reports show, depression is 13 percent higher among women. Brauner said though she is not one of them, she can understand why it is more common among them.

“Colleges have always been open to men,” Brauner said. “I guess it’s because of the roles left in society women had.”

Hicks said there is no particular demographic group that dominates the USF counseling center. Students from ages 17 to 50 receive treatment, and only about half are among the traditional college age of 17 to 22.

Hicks added that the increase in students seeking assistance can be contributed to faculty and resident assistants being able to recognize the symptoms of depression.

“We do training with RAs on how to recognize a crisis or anxiety,” Hicks said. “The best thing for anybody to do is show a genuine concern for that person.”

The National Institute of Mental Health reported that treatment helps at least 80 percent of depressed patients improve.

“Our statistics are consistent with the statistics that have been reported in the media that 70 to 80 percent experience signs of improvement,” Hicks said.

Students who need medical treatment such as anti-depressants for psychological conditions sometimes need to take medications before arriving at college to ease symptoms.

“These medications have allowed students to attend college,” Hicks said.

Besides the daily issues that contribute to stress anxiety, Hicks said people have to realize that level has changed after Sept. 11.

“With all the world events going on, students are more in touch with improving themselves and (their) relationships and what’s important to them,” Hicks said. “They feel ‘I want to get more out of my life.'”

For more information about counseling services, students can contact the USF Counseling Center for Human Development at 974-2831.