He was a weather forecaster by trade, but he brought so much more than that to the WFLA morning news. John Winter seemed to never take himself too seriously on air and his “morons in the news” segments always made me laugh. Hit like a brick with the news of his apparent suicide last week, I can only hope that his passing will educate us all.
As a friend and colleague has described, Winter had “dark clouds” in his life as he struggled with depression. Although I am admittedly no expert on such things, apparently his jovial demeanor belied his own private struggles.
In an article in the Tampa Tribune, colleagues mentioned that Winter was the “happiest, nicest man you can know,” while the headline of the story proclaimed that he was a “ray of sunshine.” And although his inner struggles may have been masked to many, as an avid animal lover the recent passing of his beloved dog Davis from cancer may have had a profound effect on the man.
While certainly a painful situation that leaves his wife and family with more questions than answers, Winter’s passing may yet provide hope. Hope that others who struggle with depression, a growing epidemic on college campuses, will seek help.
It comes as no surprise that college students are highly susceptible to feelings stronger than just a mild case of the blues. Moving away from home, the pressure to get good grades and a lack of sleep can all contribute to mental health issues.As Dr. Joseph Himle at the University of Michigan said in an article on wcco.com, “preliminary knowledge that we do have suggests that depression is quite prevalent on college campuses.”
Statistics and surveys back up his assertion. A study referred to in the article found that nearly half of college students report being so depressed they were unable to function normally. Further reinforcing the prevalence of mental illness, research has shown that one in four young adults will experience clinical depression by age 24.
I am not an expert on depression, but it would seem that proactive steps need to be taken to deal with these stark numbers. It is important to build a network of friends – especially on such a large campus as USF’s. Friends who not only share their lives but are able to listen and suggest seeking help if warning signals arise.Winter’s death also reminds USF that depression is no respecter of race, wealth or status. Individuals who seemingly “have it all” are not insulated from the grip of depression. Someone with the happiest outside may be unable to cope with the horrors they face on the inside. Mental health issues may not be as evident as a broken arm or having the sniffles, but they are certainly just as debilitating.Unfortunately, mental health problems have for too long been associated with unhealthly stigmas. Perhaps uncomfortable with the lack of knowledge about such diseases, it is often easier for some to stereotype and avoid depressed people than invest in guiding friends to helpful professionals for treatment.
It is clear, however, that depression is a struggle for many students, so it is crucial to try to help those around campus. Wouldn’t we hope that they would do the same for us?
The assistance of fellow students, however, is only one part of the solution. More must also be done at the administrative level to provide the resources that students need to treat depression. Higher education should include far more than just the teaching that goes on inside the classroom. Perhaps educating students on how to cope more effectively with mental illnesses that may last a lifetime should be included.Reading about the stretched resources of the USF’s Counseling Center for Human Development in a story that appeared in the Oracle on March 6 should sound alarm bells. Yes, students may be more willing to seek help, evidenced by an increased percentage of students seeking counseling, but unrealistic wait times may drive those at high risk away.
Identifying and treating mental health issues, including depression, requires the teamwork of both concerned students and mental health professionals. The pain of Winter’s passing is still here, but perhaps his final community contribution will be the education and treatment of many who suffer the same struggles he did.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.