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Depression in the real world

Joining a reality television show, she admits, may not have been the best thing to do while suffering from depression. In fact, when the opportunity came for Cara Kahn to become a member of The Real World Chicago, she didn’t even think of how it might affect her.

“I probably should have been worried because it’s not the healthiest project to get involved with when you’re subject to depression,” Kahn said. “But at the time, I had the contract there in front of me and … I just sort of blindly signed it.”

However, Kahn said living with six other people, while her life was nationally televised didn’t harm her mental health because it kept her busy.

Kahn, 23, said, as she comes to speak to USF students today for the 10-city college seminar tour, titled “Depression in College: Real World. Real Life. Real Issues,” she wants to make students aware they are at risk for depression.

Kahn will speak at 1 p.m. in the University Lecture Hall.

USF is Kahn’s second stop on a nationwide mental-health educational campaign about depression. As a spokeswoman for Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company, Kahn wants to share her experience to help others. But some critics have argued that the campaign is a promotion for medication.

Harvard University refused the company’s invitation to speak on campus. According to The Wall Street Journal, Harvard’s Provost Steven Hyman called the event a “slippery slope” and a chance for the company to market antidepressants.

The antidepressant Effexor is one form of medication made by Wyeth, which is the same prescription used by Kahn, said Douglas Petkus, a media relations spokesman for Wyeth.

Petkus said Kahn is being compensated for her time during the campaign, but the purpose of the event isn’t to advertise.

“There is no mention and no signage of our brand during the event,” Petkus said. “Cara’s story is one (students) might listen to.”

Kahn is well aware of the concern some doctors may have, but she said she isn’t out there as a marketing tool.

“I’m not even allowed to say what drug I use unless I am asked,” Kahn said. “I wouldn’t do the campaign if I wasn’t dedicated to the cause.”

Being diagnosed with depression at the age of 15 is what brought her into this educational forum. There wasn’t one particular thing in her life that sparked symptoms of depression, but the best way for her to deal with the disease was support from friends and family while she took medication.

According to a report from the National Mental Health Association, 10 percent of college students across the nation were diagnosed with depression in 2001.

College students, Kahn said, need to be aware that they are at risk of depression.

“I want to let people know that if they are depressed, it’s OK to talk about it and that there are options,” Kahn said. “My personal struggle with the disease was revealed on The Real World. When this came out on the show, it was kind of embarrassing.”

After this was known, Kahn began getting letters from college students who watched the show and suffered from depression, as well.

“In writing back to these people, I was saying you have nothing to be embarrassed about,” Kahn said. “And, in a way, this made me more comfortable with myself.”

By sharing a house with six other people, Kahn was able to keep herself busy and had friends to support her.

“I think The Real World didn’t prove to be that unhealthy,” Kahn said.

Kahn’s first tour began last week at Washington University, where she is an alumna. About 250 students attended the seminar, which was more than Kahn expected.

Kahn said at the end of her discussion, students in the audience came forward with their experiences with depression, and she answered any further questions they had about her experiences.

There are some things Kahn wants to keep private while sharing her experience, but the goal is to inform students.

“It’s not bringing my personal life into it but bringing my story with depression. It’s a little bit traumatic … but for whatever reason, people are having a positive response to my care and my story.”