“I had literally walked out of my dorm room, gone down into my car and left. The next thing I knew, I was at a truck stop in Louisiana with no money, no gas, I was lost,” said Janie Jones, a student at Mississippi University for Women.
It was a friend’s help and a voice which brought her back safely to Mississippi that day. A voice which made her realize that she is not the first person who is going through that phase. A voice which prompted her to seek help. Before few months, it was the same inner voice that distracted her from priorities, made her feel rejected and unimportant. The voice that didn’t understand the value of her existence. The voice’s domination that people normally refer to as Depression. In her case, the change was inevitable.
Depression in college students has been increasing lately. Depression is a common, yet serious mental illness characterized by sad and anxious feelings. Normally these emotions last a day or two, but if it lasts for many days it can affect daily activities. Especially with students, it can affect their academic performance and decrease their self-esteem. College students are not fully matured mentally and emotionally. They are young adults and still learning to cope with different situations emotionally. Homesickness, stress, grief, relationship conflicts, identity crisis can be some major causes of depression for college students.
Dr. Deb Wells is a licensed professional counselor at Mississippi University for Women. Since more than 31 years, she has worked in counseling field helping students deal with their anxieties, depression and other mental health concerns.
“A lot of times we don’t know if the anxiety caused the depression or vice versa. In college, a student may not have good grades, they might struggle with social skills to interact with people, they might not have many friends. They may have been a big fish in a little pond before, but when they come to college they are a little fish in a big pond,” said Wells.
The cause of depression varies from individual to individual. Jones was insulted twice as a kid when she was two and eight years old. Her aunt was very manipulative, and she would tell her that nobody cared for her. Her mom suffered from an illness which impeded her mobility. She started blaming herself for all that happened. Having experienced such things, she felt rejected, and always looked for acceptance from other people as a child.
When she moved from Nevada to Mississippi to attend college, she had to stay with the same narcissist aunt. Her aunt tore her down to build her own self-esteem. She did not let Jones communicate with any of her family members. Therefore, at the end of the first semester in college, she ended up being homeless after deciding to move out of her aunt’s house. She moved back to campus dorm in her second semester. That’s when Jones lost all communication with her family, she gradually lost interest in her studies and her passion- Music.
“That phase was devastating for me. I did not want to do anything. I would go out, go for long walks at two in the morning to the Riverwalk, which is not very safe. Every day was a struggle; to put my clothes on, walk to the class, not smack somebody when they said things I didn’t like. I was changing my personality without knowing who I was. I felt like somebody else was controlling me,” said Jones.
In her sophomore year, she got assaulted by her friend whom she trusted a lot. That was a big relapse point in her life which made her stranded in Louisiana as mentioned in the beginning. Finally, self-awakening along with the support of co-workers, and church members made her take the first step to address depression in a proper way. She gathered enough courage in the fourth semester of college to consult a professional counselor at the W. And slowly her life changed for the better.
A lot of students suffering from depression hesitate to even contact the counseling center. Some of them even have a misconception that people will think that they are crazy if they go to the counseling center.
Wells said getting the students to do their homework is the biggest challenge when it comes to handling depression and anxiety.
“We assign several activities and homework for the student. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the students’ effort and determination,” said Wells.
“When the students come with their problems, we firstly focus on listening to all the details of their issue. As counselors, our goal is to help the student arrive at their own conclusion rather than giving advice,” said Rob’Dreka Shaw, a counselor at MUW counseling center.
Jones saw a big turning point after she changed her attitude about depression, took it seriously and committed enough time for homework. She was assigned to write one thing that she liked about herself every day. Over the course of time, it made her feel special and appreciate the things around her. She made herself go out with friends, do physical exercise and focus on her music.
“One of the most important things that students must do is self-care. You need to go out, and do things that are enjoyable to you. Those things are going to keep you energetic. Every now and then buy something that makes you happy,” said Shaw.
In Jones’s Case, relentless efforts, and the optimistic attitude of not giving up and trying finally made her depression free in junior year of college.
“You might not be happy about doing it but there is something about movement and doing things. If you can consistently do one thing in a day, have one conversation, make yourself laugh once even if it’s a fake one it releases certain chemicals which helps you get over depression quicker,” said Jones.
Wells and Shaw deal with depression and anxiety cases of college students almost every day. Both said every case, and every student’s personality is different. The cause, consequence, and the solution are not the same for everybody.
According to Shaw, what really got her to work with college students was the fact that she gets to work with soon to be future citizens of the society.
“The highlight for me is that “Ahaaaa” moment when over the course of sessions student clients come up with the answer to their own questions. Since college students are growing into adults, deep down they know the solution to their problems. We just try to make them act on it,” said Shaw.
After all, mental illnesses do not define a person, the strength, and courage to overcome it does. One should not be hesitant to talk about mental illness. Mental illness should be taken seriously. Talking to a professional is a great way to deal with it. Resources such as counseling center and health center are available in many universities. College students just need to utilize them.