Logan Kirkland thought about suicide when he was just in high school.
“I got in my car, and I started driving, and while I was driving I started thinking ‘You know what? If I got in a car wreck right now people would just think I got in a car wreck. They wouldn’t think anything of it.’ And so I closed my eyes and slammed on the gas, and just the revving of the engine made me sick. I was just hoping I was going to run into a car or just run off the road and hit a tree and that would be the end of it,” said Kirkland, a senior at Ole Miss.
He pulled back just in time.
“I got afraid, and I started remembering of all my family and all my friends, of everyone who loved me. I remembered my mom hugging me and telling me everything was going to be okay. I slammed on my brakes, and then I just sat there in my car and cried. It was a weird moment.”
In the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and according to Healthline Networks, a privately owned provider of health information, depression is the biggest risk factor for suicidal youth.
Healthline reports that one out of every four college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression, and 44 percent of American college students have reported having symptoms of depression. Perhaps an even more alarming statistic is that 75 percent of college students do not seek help for their mental health problems.
What is causing depression for college students?
Dr. Danielle Maack, psychologist at Delta Autumn Consulting and assistant professor in the department of psychology at Ole Miss, said she sees three components to depression: biological, psychological, and social.
The biological component of the disease includes things like genetics, temperamental vulnerability or anxiety disorders within a family.
The psychological component includes what people have learned about coping and dealing with stressors, like finals on top of papers on top of social activities. People normally learn this from their parents and other role models — watching them deal with stress and emotions.
The social component includes an individual’s support system. Do they feel comfortable with their friends? If people have enough support or tools to deal with stressors, Maack said they typically don’t develop depression.
According to Maack, people may become depressed if they have a long period of time where they feel like they can’t accomplish anything or get pleasure out of anything. If someone is not doing well in a class, not doing well in personal interactions, or not participating in healthy activities, symptoms of depression could appear.
“If I know I’m going to fail an exam or if I know I’m not going to have fun if I go out, then why do it? People may start isolating and may start avoiding friends,” said Maack.
She says they may start to give up trying in certain situations.
“If I know I’m going to fail the exam, then why even do the homework? We see this avoidance cycle, which can lead to depression. And if you don’t feel like you have the resources to deal with it, it’s easy to see how the depressive symptoms could start and then develop into a depressive episode,” Maack said.
How do you know someone is depressed?
“The interesting thing about depression is that not every presentation is going to be the same,” said Maack.
There are some common factors with all depression. Depression is a period of two weeks or longer where someone seems down and depressed most of the day, nearly every day or it seems like they have lost interest in things they used to enjoy.
“You don’t have the experiences to start to feel good again because you don’t feel like getting out of bed. You feel like you just want to pull the covers over your head. It’s hard to say get up, take a shower, go to class, meet some friends. It just seems like way too much. It can really negatively impact so many areas of a person’s life,” Maack said.
Then there are symptoms that differ, depending on the person. Some people may gain weight while others have a loss of appetite. Some people suffer from hypersomnia, sleeping way too much, and some suffer from insomnia, not being able to sleep.
Maack said when people are depressed there is a change in cognitive functioning. People aren’t able to concentrate or pay attention and are easily distracted, all things that cause problems for a college student. This along with lack of energy can lead to suicidal thoughts.
What should people know if they are suffering from depression?
Maack said people suffering from depression need to know they are not alone and that depression is treatable. There are resources on campus and in the community.
“We also want to reduce the stigma. You don’t have to be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a shameful thing. It’s something that can be really devastating and detrimental to someone’s college experience,” said Maack.
Maack said there are ways to try to prevent depression. Students should try to keep a regular routine. Students should get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods.
“Preventative factors are just taking care of yourself and paying attention. If you catch it early, it can be less devastating than if it’s a full blown depressive episode,” said Maack.
Kirkland said it is important to find what regulates your emotions.
“For me, it’s running. I love to run. I love to just kind of sweat out the emotion. I just love to just lose control and just go out there. For some people, it’s painting. For some people, it’s yoga. Just kind of find what helps bring that inner peace, and you really can make yourself happy,” said Kirkland.
Where can a student at Ole Miss get help?
Ole Miss has both a Counseling Center and a Psychological Services Center (PSC) on campus. Dr. Todd Smitherman, Director of the Center for Behavorial Medicine and associate professor at Ole Miss, said the PSC sees about 250-300 clients per year.
The PSC offers therapy for individuals with depression, and all PSC services are offered on a “sliding scale,” meaning you only pay what you can afford based on your income. Smitherman said most of the patients pay between $5 and $10 per session.
“Both the PSC and Counseling Center on campus are very inexpensive, excellent resources for students dealing with depression,” said Smitherman.
Smitherman also said students should not suffer in silence or wait around until their mood improves because depression doesn’t work like that.
“I used to be so afraid to even say the word suicide or afraid to say the word depression, but now I know that it’s just such a problem, and I know that it’s something that everyone deals with. You can’t do this thing alone. You have to have help. I think that’s the biggest thing. Know that there is help, and it’s okay to ask for it,” said Kirkland.
Story contributed by Ole Miss Journalism student Nicole Bounds, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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