Notes from the island

Humor and a sense of detachment are the best ways to logically analyze a subject. However, there are certain subjects that are necessary to be frank and honest about. Especially when those topics have personal significance. Clinical depression is a growing issue for college students. 15 percent of the college student population on any given campus suffer from clinical depression or another form of serious mental illness. The number of students who have been treated for serious depression has doubled in the last five years, while the number of students contemplating suicide has tripled. A significant part of the problem stems from the environment in which we live as college students. College is a stressful experience. We are all at a vulnerable age. The demands of an intense workload, having financial worries, and being in a new place are all factors that can cause stress and a fragile emotional state. Amidst this hectic environment, students are trying to establish their own identity. As students, we are at the peak age to develop mental disorders. Including depression. What happens to us can be likened to putting an alcoholic in a bar and telling him to act responsibly. The catch with that analogy is that it’s easier to spot someone who is drunk all the time then it is to find someone with a mental disorder. The problem is identifying the defining characteristics between having a bad week and having a chemical imbalance. Depression can decrease one’s appetite, change one’s behavior, cause feelings of anxiety, a lack of sleep, and change friendships. This happens to many college students on a weekly basis. This problem is worsened by the fact that many students don’t know how to identify someone they are close to as depressed. Identification of a mental disorder usually involves a friend or family member noticing changes in behavior. Students need to be trained to be able to see the symptoms that require professional help. Last year, I had a friend from home commit suicide. It was the first time a person I had known closely died. He was two weeks from graduating, had a 3.7 GPA, a great job lined up, and it seemed to me that he was happy. I will always think about how I could have helped my friend, or how I missed the signals that should have told me to get my friend some help. Over 1,000 suicides happen every year on college campuses. Over half of those students that committed suicide did not get any help before they took their own lives. Depression is not something that you can “get over.” It requires professional help and care. The social embarrassment that is associated with having to meet a therapist or a mental health care professional is salient in college communities. The idea behind being a college student is learning to become an independent adult. The belief behind this is that if you are not able to control your emotions then how can you control your life? We have all seen what happens when human beings make decisions based on emotions rather then make rational decisions – chairs get thrown on syndicated television. Even though I have had family members and friends, even best friends, who have suffered from depression, not one person has asked for help. The idea that emotions and feelings fade is not true. Everyone can still remember the first time they lost a loved one or had their heart broken. The difference is that someone with a genetic disposition toward depression feels that way all the time, or has buried their sadness under some form of self-medication (drugs) that only exacerbates the problem. Mental illness does not produce ocular symptoms. Part of having this illness involves the individual denying that they even have a problem. With open minds, we must discuss this issue. It is a discussion that has to happen among our friends because it could, and does, save lives.