Thursday, March 13, 2008

College Depression (Part 2)

Because I see from my Stat Counter that--like yesterday--I am still getting a number of college students reading this blog, I will write this post for you. Almost 40 years ago, when I was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, I experienced my first depressive episode. In retrospect, it was due to a number of factors. It was the height of the 60s and and I was a 50s person in terms of my morals and values. It was all about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll--and that wasn't me.

I was homesick. I started college as a spring admit--two quarters after everyone else had made friends and gone through their initial adjustment. I was an optimist in pessimistic times. I was an introvert by nature, and I kept my feelings to myself. And I didn't know how to say, "I'm feeling hopeless inside. I've never felt this way before. I need help."

Today, the symptoms of a depressive episode can be easily found, and I am including a link from the National Institutes of Mental Health. But they weren't well-known then. No one I knew had sought help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. We weren't bombarded by antidepressant commercials on TV. And I couldn't imagine telling a stranger that four weeks after starting college, I was feeling despairing, hopeless, and sad.

I wasn't suicidal; I just felt like I didn't fit in. I also thought that I should be able to solve my problems myself. And I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy when my friends seemed fine.

What I believe now is that if I had sought help, and if the counselor or psychologist had understood that the stress of life events can cause a depressive episode, and if I could have honestly said, "I hate it here. I don't like the environment. I don't like the people. I should have gone to a smaller college that is less political. I don't do drugs nor do I drink, and I don't feel like I fit in. I'm a virgin and it feels like I'm being pressured to have sexual relations and I'm "saving myself for marriage" (Yes, I really did believe that)--and if I could have been reassured that I wasn't alone and other people were experiencing similar feelings, and if we could have talked it all out, that might have been the end of it.

But that's not what happened. I didn't seek help for six months. The psychologist I eventually saw was a moron. We never discussed anything of importance. Worse yet, he was a terrible listener and he didn't see that my feelings were symptomatic of depression. And the episode lasted for almost five years--in a low-grade way.

After a year, I transferred to another university, but because I never resolved the problems that plagued me, I kept ruminating (thinking about it over and over) about my experience for the next 25 years, when I was finally diagnosed as bipolar.

So, take it from me--if you're feeling sad, empty, hopeless, pessimistic, and helpless (or you have some of the other symptoms that are listed on the NIMH link I've provided), get help. Find someone to talk with immediately. Don't worry about the stigma. Don't worry about what your friends or parents will think. You need to understand that these feelings can be resolved.

You also need to realize that every counselor doesn't work for every student. Some people are blessed with insight, and an ability to enable someone who's feeling bad to share the pain, and others aren't. So, if you don't begin to make progress fairly soon, it might be the counselor and not you.

But the moral of this story is that if you don't get help--for whatever the reason--the pain and suffering it will cause over a lifetime is indescribable. If there's any advice I have for college students, it is that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. And if you don't feel well enough to seek someone out on your own, confide in your friends or your parents. Just make sure that you immediately deal with the issues causing your distress...so that you can go on and live happily ever after!

4 comments:

KJ said...

My husband had his first major depressive episode in college too. He was 23 I was 20. We were married, young and naive. It took us 13 years to figure out there might be something wrong with him that a medical professional could help with. We have been married 15 years now and when we look back had we just got help back then, in college, oh how things could have been different and so much of the pain he endured could have been lessend. Great posts for these young people.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
Thanks for sharing. This is an issue that interests me deeply. I've often wondered if those of us who get depressed during this period share certain qualities and temperaments. But that's a discussion for another time.

Thank you! I truly appreciate your input!

Susan

JayPeeFreely said...

What you said is so true. Near as I can tell, I think we went to the same school and had some of the same feelings. (Because I never really fit in...I spent much of my time alone...)

Sorry I didn't get by more lately

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Jason,
I'm the one who should be sorry for not dropping by your blog. I've been trying to stay offline--other than writing my blog--and spending more time outdoors. Hope you're feeling better! You've seemed kind of down.

Susan