People have a lot of wrong ideas about depression. We often use the word “depressed” to describe someone who is a in a bad mood, having a bad day or dealing with a string of bad breaks. Everyone has times when they feel depressed, blue or down in the dumps, and most of the time, these low moods don’t last long and get better on their own. For some people, though, these moods become more extreme and turn into a serious illness, a clinical depression.
Truth: There’s a big difference between clinical depression and the normal, everyday blues. For one thing, clinical depression lasts longer—from a few weeks to over a year. For another, sympathetic friends and family can’t make it go away. Clinical depression can start off as a reaction to a disappointment or other event, but it’s a serious illness that needs treatment.
Truth: Clinical depression is a very real and serious illness that affects all parts of a person’s life. College students with clinical depression suffer in many ways—not only are they in emotional pain, but they often withdraw from their friends, have trouble getting things done, get into conflicts with people and take dangerous risks. If they don’t get help, their whole future can be affected.
Truth: Effective help for clinical depression is available, and most clinical depressions improve with treatment. Psychotherapy, or counseling, and medication are both very effective.
Truth: When people are clinically depressed, they can’t “snap out of” it anymore than they can “snap out of” an ulcer or diabetes. Although we don’t know the exact cause of clinical depression, we do know it is a medical illness with biological components. We also know that genetics and certain brain chemicals play a part. In short, we know enough to treat it effectively.
Truth: Some people think that talking about depression is just dwelling on a problem and that it’s better to change the subject. It’s hard for some people to talk about feelings, but telling someone about feeling depressed is an important step toward getting help. Talking to a therapist isn’t just getting things off your chest—it is a way to change the way you look at things and solve problems.
Truth: It’s true that more girls admit to feeling depressed, but there are probably more guys with clinical depression than we think. College men often don’t feel comfortable talking about the feelings and experiences that go along with clinical depression.
Truth: Antidepressants are only one form of effective treatment for clinical depression. For young adults, the combination of talk therapy and medication is often the most helpful. Two specific kinds of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT), not only improve the symptoms of clinical depression but also help to prevent them from returning. Even regular aerobic exercise improves depression.
Truth: Unlike diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer, there is no biological or medical test for clinical depression. A trained health professional makes a diagnosis of clinical depression by interviewing someone to see if they have a particular set of symptoms. A questionnaire can show if someone might have a clinical depression, but can’t give a diagnosis.