Am I in a Funk or Do I Need Help
So you had a bad day? A bad week? A bad month? All of us have experienced days—or even a few weeks—when we feel a dark cloud hovering above us wherever we go. We feel moody and stressed, discouraged and uninterested. . .We’re in a funk.
We’ve all been there: Things we used to enjoy just don’t interest us anymore. People we like to hang around with are annoying. Family irritates us. Going to class to listen to lecture? Forget it. For most of us, though, these blue feelings are short-lived responses to the stresses and pressures of everyday life. For young adults entering college, a depressed mood and feelings of sadness are part of the normal process of growing up and leaving home.
Since these feelings are both common and quite normal, the question arises, then, how do we know if what we are experiencing is just a funk (a temporary feeling of the blues) or if it is something more serious that needs the attention of a healthcare provider?
Unlike a funk or the blues, clinical depression is a health disorder that is associated with our genes and changes the balance of chemicals in the brain—that’s why it should be treated by a physician or mental health professional. It is very important to understand that if a person is clinically depressed, he or she can not “snap out of it” anymore than a person can “snap out of” cancer, the flu or diabetes. Clinical depression is a serious condition that requires the attention of healthcare professionals. In fact, about 15-20 percent of college students experience at least one serious episode of depression.
How Do I Know If I Need to Seek Help?
The biggest clue that you might need to seek medical help is persistence—persistent sadness, irritability or feelings of heaviness, persistent discouragement or feelings of low self-worth or a persistent depressed mood. If one or more of the following signs persist everyday, most of the day for a period of two weeks or more, you should seek help:
- Sadness, Crying, Tearfulness. Do you cry for no reason at all? Are you preoccupied with sad things? Do you find yourself writing sad poems or listening to sad music?
- Irritability. Do you snap at people for no reason? Are you verbally or physically aggressive towards others? Are you frequently critical and sarcastic?
- Loss of Concentration. Do you find it increasingly difficult to stay on task? To go to class or to get your assignments finished? Do you have trouble concentrating on things? Is it difficult to make decisions? Do you forget appointments or have a tough time keeping commitments?
- Decreased Interest in Friends or Activities. Do you notice that you have abandoned your favorite hobbies or things to do? Are you increasingly more passive? Do you have little interest in going out with your friends? Do you find it difficult to do much more than stay in your room watching TV? Do you just feel lazy all the time?
- Lack of Motivation. How are your grades? Are they slipping? Do you find that you are bored all of the time? Are you experiencing more absences from classes?
- Difficulty With Relationships. Are you having more conflicts than usual with your parents, siblings and friends? Do you purposely avoid family gatherings? Have you changed peer groups and dropped your other friends? Are you negative about your family?
- Increased Risk-Taking. Are you throwing caution to the wind with your behaviors, such as engaging in more dangerous driving? Is there an increase in your sexual activity, or are you becoming less cautious during sex? Are you drinking more or using drugs? Have you gotten more tattoos or body piercings?
- Low Self-Esteem. Do you have persistent feelings that you are worthless? That no one would care if you died or if you weren’t around anymore? Do you feel guilty for things that are beyond your control, such as the divorce of your parents or the illness or death of a friend? Do you feel like a failure? Do you feel like you have to be perfect all of the time?
- Change in Eating and Sleeping Patterns. Has your appetite changed? Are you eating too much? Too little? Do you stay up all night tossing and turning? Do you find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep? Or, do you sleep all of the time?
- Self-Injury. Are you a cutter? Do you pull out your hair? Pick your skin?
- Thoughts or Expressions of Suicide. Do you ever think that life is not worth living? Do you think that it would be better for everyone if you just weren’t around anymore? Do you just want to “go away” and not come back? Have you thought about ways you would take your life? Have you ever planned how you will die? When people feel depressed, it is common to have thoughts about death—you just want to end the pain and suffering, but feel helpless about how to do so. IF YOU HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS—YOU SHOULD SEEK HELP FROM A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL AT YOUR SCHOOL’S STUDENT HEALTH OR COUNSELING CENTER.
So What’s the Next Step?
If you persistently (for more than two weeks) experience any of the above symptoms, the next step is to find someone who can help you with your feelings. Every college campus has counselors available for students, and these counselors maintain high levels of confidentiality—they cannot, by law, tell your parents, your teachers or your friends that you are seeking help for depression without your permission. Often, counseling is all that is needed to help someone through their period of depressed mood. Besides being a great listener, a counselor can also help you find ways to combat negative or sad thoughts, and he or she can also show you ways to cope with the changes in your life. Sometimes medication is part of the treatment, sometimes it is not. Your healthcare provider will do whatever is necessary to get you back on the road to health, so you can experience your family relationships, your friendships and life to the fullest!