The View From Here: Depression on College Campuses

The View From Here: Depression on College Campuses


I was really humbled by how
little of the world I’d seen and how little I’d
actually experienced. And in my senior year,
I felt like I don’t even want to go to college. –expected us to achieve a lot. To achieve a lot. Am I going to start dealing
with issues of my being. And I’m not ready– –how we weren’t really
given any guidance and we didn’t do really well
by their standards. –stressful period in my life,
and that caused me to spiral. I think I was hoping when
I came to college just to find whatever it is
that I really loved. –and a 45 on the MCAT. What I really wanted
was to leave my parents. –parties. –community of
friends to rely on. And so I put up a good
facade of being on task, and knowing what’s
what, and doing well. But reality, it’s
very different. Choose career. Where to live? Get a job. Get a good job. Education– how much? Do I even like
what I’m studying? What I want to do? Parents expect me
to be successful. Friends– who’s your friend? Who’s not? Be somebody. Accomplish– pressure,
pressure, pressure, pressure! I think actually, I tried
to do a lot of things to get people to know
that I wasn’t happy. But it was difficult
for people to see, because at the same
time, I presented myself as being really sure of myself. Everybody’s very friendly,
and very, I would say, fake. And everything’s like, hi. How are you? How’s it going? After a month, that gets old. There’s always this
constant information from your environment
that you’re not cool, or something like that. So then I went through
the whole rigmarole to get let in at
Michigan, got in here, didn’t have a place to
live– lived on my sister’s floor for a month. And it was just like everything
that could go wrong did. I very frequently didn’t feel
like I was doing anything to help at all, and it was
pretty frustrating to me that I couldn’t help my sister. I don’t participate
a whole lot in class, and I slack on my
work sometimes. Pretty often, that was the case. I felt like I was
completely trapped. Whatever I do, it’s going
to be the wrong thing. I’m never going to
finish my degree. Even if I did, I’ll never get
a job, at least in what I want. I was overly
concerned with school, and I was a wet blanket. And I was cynical. I was very cynical. I had some anxiety
about what direction I was going to be
pursuing in college, because I didn’t really
know academically what field I wanted to pursue. And I felt I had some
familial pressures. I had a major life change. It was not a sudden trauma,
like a death of someone or 9/11. But it was a dramatic
change of this doesn’t sound enough
to set it off, but it was a change
of job, of location, of identity, of friends. I felt that I had
built a life and had been ripped up from
that life by the roots and planted somewhere else. And the other place I was
planted was a wonderful place. That’s where I wanted to be. You’re in a situation
where you’re being evaluated constantly. And it’s just the
combination of trying to maintain your equilibrium,
and keep producing at a high level, and being
evaluated, and then fighting various colleagues who
have issues of their own. The thing is that the
world’s just going too fast. You’ve got to go, go, go,
go, go, move forward, keep up a million miles an hour. Get ahead, get ahead, get ahead. Ahead of what? Ahead of the game. Be a winner. Stay on top. Keep one step ahead. Don’t let them see you sweat. Be fit. Be strong. Survival of the fittest. You can’t get sick. Sick is unacceptable! When I talk to
students– and say they’re not doing
well academically, so they’re coming in to
talk to me about that. And once we get in here, I say,
well, what else is going on? Is there something else? So it’s a sense that they
can’t pin it on anything. It isn’t because they just
broke up with their boyfriend, or it isn’t because they’re in
a class that was tough for them. There’s nothing
else that’s wrong. I transferred to
the music school, and I felt myself being
really disillusioned. There were days when I
wouldn’t get out of bed, and I just didn’t want to go
to classes, and I didn’t eat. And I just didn’t
feel myself at all. I started to slide back into
the groove I’d been before. He is so sensitive when he’s
depressed and little things, he can get extremely angry. Or he can get angry at himself. He walks out of the
room, and I feel like I’m walking on egg
shells a lot of the time. Almost immediately, when I
step in here, I can’t operate. It went downhill. For my first year,
and– what’s the word? You’re too couped
up with yourself, or something like that. To actually know that
something was actually wrong. I think the passivity
and the hopelessness were primary indicators. But there were certainly
other strong things. I think I was very
angry at fate. I often had bandages on
my arm here or there. And it was one of those things
where I was embarrassed. But at the same time,
I wanted someone to notice, because I wanted
someone to say, are you OK? Someone to pay attention,
because I was really hurting. We had a student once
who had just broken up with a significant
other and was feeling like his world was
coming down, wasn’t able to get a grasp on
reality or life at that point. And he took pills to either
try to commit suicide or a cry for help, a reach out for help. A resident adviser was informed,
talked with the student. And then that week,
we spent a lot of time talking one on one,
just to reach out and let him know that there is
somebody outside of a peer, who is in the building, who cares. We will try everything in
our power to help them. I wasn’t an athlete
or a bookworm, so I easily fell into
the category using drugs. From there, I got kicked out. And my friend was like,
well, I have some acid. Do you want a trip? It’s not the best thing to
do, and I was like, all right. And I just got really depressed. Well, the symptoms of
depression had been building up and building up. And I had no idea what
the symptoms were. I do know they were
symptoms of depression. I thought they were side effects
from all the acid I had taken. I think when you’re thinking
about depression too, especially among college
students, one of the things to think about is has there been
a recent increase in substance use? Sometimes, when people
begin to feel depressed, they may turn to substances to
help themselves feel better. Sometimes, people just
feel very irritable and feel that
taking a successful will just take the
edge off for them so that they can get through the
day and get along with people. It was one of those semesters
where I just worked really, really hard. And then afterwards,
there was nothing. I had nothing to
feel happy about. And then I just started
shoplifting, and it was awful. There were a series of
incidents that I pinned it on immediately. Having to deal with the
battle over my tenure I would wake up
early in the morning, like 4:00 AM or something,
and I’d just pace around. The fall of my
junior year, I really started to feel a lot
of general anxiety. And I started having
some panic attacks where I just would feel like
I couldn’t really breathe. And I think a lot of
people just simply aren’t aware of what the symptoms
of depression are, and they aren’t aware
of how prevalent it is. There’s a huge
percentage of people that suffer from
depression needlessly, that don’t really understand or
realize that they’re depressed. But then maybe, you ask someone
if they’ve ever felt this way. And they look at you funny,
and you think, oh, man. They think I’m a freak, a loser. And after all the
awful things happened, I felt like I’ve entered
a new stage in my life, like a despicable human being. If I felt any stigmas from
myself, in terms of I’ve seen it as a loss of strength. I felt very angry
at myself at times that I wasn’t able
to deal with this. I had this feeling like
why am I feeling like this? I must be doing something wrong. I must not be totally in tune
with my faith, or my religion if I’m feeling like this. Teachers definitely
wanted reasons for what was happening, like
my not showing to class, and doing poorly
in the class work. But I always thought of
something else to say, because I didn’t think it was
any of their business to know. There are ways for students
to withdraw from the class and not hurt their
academic standing or be removed from
the university. I went and told my father
that I needed help, and I needed to see a therapist. And my idea just exploded. What the hell are
you talking about? My daughter is perfect. She does not need
to see a therapist. What is wrong with you? I give you everything you want. There’s such a stigma
attached to depression, and I was afraid that it would
affect how they viewed me as a teacher and a scholar. And there’s also a sense of
what we’d call race pride, and the idea that you don’t give
the white community any reason to judge you adversely. The concept of depression
is different back home. It’s not even discussed. For Asian cultures,
depression, or mental health, in general, mental
disorders, in general, has a significant
stigma attached to it. To be considered to have
depression or a mental disorder is worse than sometimes
having terminal cancer. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it. It was that I wasn’t
willing to admit it or willing to say it out loud. And if I wasn’t willing
to say that as someone involved in medicine and
psychology, how can anybody be? And I was afraid. I was afraid that it
was from the acid, and they were going to lock
me up for the rest of my life. No choices. Nothing I could
do about anything. I was very much
stuck in the moment. They were going to lock me
up for the rest of my life. I was hurting myself, because
I wasn’t going to my classes. I was hurting myself. It because just
this hopelessness. That I was worthless. Nothing could help me. Nothing could save me. I would always be lonely. I’ve had some not
so good thoughts. There’s this whole
sense of hate. Nothing could help me. Nothing could save
me, and I was just like this dead little baby. I should have died. So then, all of a sudden,
all of those times I’ve ever taken pills,
why didn’t it come up, and why didn’t I
take a few more? I’ve had several crises
during graduate school. And I’ve been to the
emergency room several times. They usually take
you right back, because they knew that you’d
just taken a load of pills. There was this one doctor. And they can be
really demeaning. And he was just like,
it’s really stupid of you to take a bunch of pills. You’re in graduate school. You have a life. Why would you do
something so dumb? And I refused to talk to him. I refused to answer
any questions. The crisis came in and
about the end of March. And that was a time when
I just felt like I really couldn’t take anymore. By that time, I wasn’t talking
to my roommates at all. And I wasn’t really talking
to anyone on my floor at all, and I wasn’t eating. I started restricting
myself to a 100 to 400 calorie diet every day. At that time, I was
intensively researching on the issue of
women and suicide. It made me start thinking
about ways that I could attempt suicide again. And my GSA read that, and she
was taken back, like whoa. Like why would you have
this point of view? And are you OK? And that broke me. And I started crying, and I
just would– no, I’m not OK. When you start being
really depressed, and I started
thinking of suicide, trying to get in control
over the situation, that was the crisis. And I think I mentioned
before to my close friends. It was an identity crisis. Within a year, we got
pregnant and had the baby. And I was 50 at the
time that that happened. And that was wonderful. But it was like the baby’s
there And all of a sudden, I’ve not only given up my
job and all this stuff, but I’m a father again. Because it was getting
so bad, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, and
I would be watching television. I was having homicidal
and suicidal thoughts. And I was afraid. It wasn’t me planning
out how I was going to go about killing somebody. There was more
images in my head. If I walked past the kitchen,
I would see the pizza cutter in my mind, and I would
see the pizza cutter slashing skin in my mind. And then I would think of
my roommate in my mind. It finally came to a head over
the summer toward early June. I had broken up with the
boyfriend again for good, and I was just beside myself. I walked into my guidance
counselor’s office and announced to him
that I was leaving, and there was really nothing
he could do to stop me. So I went back to my parents
and spent about two months sitting around, not doing a lot. She wasn’t herself. She was crying. She didn’t feel like she
had control over things, and it didn’t get better. My mom did come home for lunch. And I said, I just
can’t take this anymore. And I couldn’t even
call a psychiatrist. She had to call one
for me, because I still couldn’t pick up the phone
and say, I have a problem. Is there something
wrong with me? I can keep up, no worries. Just take it day by day. I emailed my adviser. And I told her. She knew about the
depression at that point. And I told her that I’m drinking
Mountain Dews and smoking cigarettes. And so she emailed me back and
said, well, at least that’s all you’re doing. So at that point,
I emailed her back. And I said, well, actually,
that’s not all I’m doing. Soon afterwards, I
did go to treatment. She sent me to go see
my family physician, and he had to fill out
the little 10 question survey about how much have
you been sleeping, and has your appetite
changed, and whatnot. And so they put
me on medication, and I continued to see my
psychologist in Mount Pleasant. I called the university
health service, the line. I think it’s an emergency line. And they said, well,
what you describe are classic symptoms
of depression. And I was really
relieved, because that meant that this wasn’t just
my own idiosyncratic problem, but it was actually a
clinical condition that could be dealt with somehow. On my way to class, I stopped
by the health services. And they were just like,
you’re really depressed. So they put me in a police car
and took me to the hospital and enrolled me in
an outpatient program for depression, a
two week program. They just educate you
really about depression and get you through
that critical two weeks where they start you off
on the road to recovery. Why am I feeling like this? You don’t need antidepressants. Depression is a– I’ll just shut down. –will power type of thing. It’s the only way I know
how to cope with it. –I didn’t think
it was biological. It doesn’t even matter so much. I must not be totally
in tune with my faith. Their way of looking at you. I’m just going to
have to not be limited by what my insurance covers. I think they think
we’re all depressed. Talking with a therapist really
didn’t do anything at all, because I knew what
my problems were. I could come up with
causes for them. There wasn’t anything I really
needed help sorting out, but the psychiatrist
gave me a prescription. I was so hung up on
doing it on my own, and I felt like medication
was just something that was going to take over my role. I wouldn’t be doing
anything active. They have a great fear that
medication is somehow going to change their personality. Or somehow, if they take
medication, they feel, it won’t be me. And in truth, medication doesn’t
alter anyone’s personality. But it certainly can make
them function in a way where they’re much more
effective, and happier, and not struggling every day
to try to get through each day. I went to the doctor,
and she recommended that I take an antidepressant. I took that for a
while, but decided that I just didn’t think it
was doing all that much for me. As far as she was concerned,
what could be done had been done. And I felt like I really
hadn’t gotten anywhere and just stopped
taking it entirely. There’s a variety of
ways to treat depression. The most effective tends to be
a combination of both counseling and medication. To me, I couldn’t
explain to them why I was upset,
because if I had to do that, I would
explain, well, mom and dad, I’d been caught shoplifting. I have a criminal
record, and I’ve been sleeping
around with people, and I’m not doing
really well in school. I couldn’t say that to them. So they would just be
like, why are you so upset? And I couldn’t tell them why. One of the difficulties,
I think for us, is recognizing that
different students from different cultures may
present different symptoms. And therefore, they do
not receive the treatment that they should. She didn’t focus on my problems. And it was like she knew
I was self-mutilating. She knew I wasn’t eating. I was starving myself. But that was all she
was concerned about. And I could
definitely see how she would be concerned about that. But there was stuff
beneath that that I think I needed to talk
about, stuff beneath that needed to be sorted out. Even if you identify
that they’re depressed, trying to get them
into treatment is a challenge because of
the stigma attached to it. The most frustrating
thing for me is that John been seemingly
unable to finish his PhD. He just is really having a hard
time finishing the research and getting it done,
and I feel like I’m going to be in this state
of limbo forever and ever. There are things that are
really important to me, my religion being
one of them, and that that’s a reason that I
need to get out of this. I think I might have felt
that if I had conveyed that something wasn’t
right to my parents, they would have thought that
too, which was the opposite. They would never
have thought that, and my mom didn’t think
that when I did tell her. I think that other more
spiritual methods are not seen as legitimate, which
didn’t stop me, of course. But it stops me from
telling people about them. I have no idea what
my future really is. Well the immediate future
is finishing school. Hope. That’s the first thing
that comes to mind. What do you think the
future holds for you? I’m really pretty
psyched about the future. I don’t depression
being a problem for me that I can’t handle. And I think that
as long as I keep working with my
psychiatrist, this is something I can certainly
live with and do everything I’ve planned to do anyway. I still have bad thoughts, but
I think about it differently. But now, these days,
I’m just depressed. And that’s fine. I can live with being depressed. I can’t stand being depressed
about being depressed. Sometimes, I think my
depression and other problems are just an insurmountable
barrier to just doing things that I might want. I’m somewhat
optimistic, but there’s always a reserve of pessimism
that I’m going to cling on to. It’s a good friend. And for me, this cycle
happens so often, I’m used to it in that sense. I want to say, hope. I want to be
optimistic and hope. That’s the first thing
that comes to mind. But that’s only because
I’m feeling OK right now, and so I can’t give a
straight out answer as far as what the future holds for
me, just because it depends so much on my mood and my feeling. Right now, I’m at a point
if I was in a position again where it
started to come up, I could easily, very quickly
identify what was wrong, fix it, and make sure
that it didn’t progress. I tend to refer to my
life as walking narrative, and that it’s all unfolding. Going through a life with
so many ups and downs is, in fact, a journey,
and one that should be recognized as being heroic. And that I think that
that might even take some of the stigma off of it. I think what would
really help is if in the same way that we’re
saying faculty of people, faculty treated
students the same way. They’re not a homework problem
that needs to be solved. Just like after the
homework problem has been dealt with in office hours. Just a how’s it going? I think it would help a lot
if the faculty were informed as to what steps they can take. Listen to yourself and
what you’re really feeling. And talk with the people
who know you well. If you do take medication,
don’t stop in the middle, because it’s really bad. I think you have to take a
practical approach and say, whatever works,
where that means, don’t stop until it works. Although it seems like you
can’t climb out of it, then eventually, you have to
climb out of it somehow. It might help me be more
open to other people, because it might help me
figure out how to be effective, not only in my own life,
but in trying to contribute to the lives of other people. To see a strength in yourself
that you didn’t realize you had, to
understand the tricks that the mind can play
on you and to grow. I would encourage friends
and family members that maybe notice
something different going on with someone
that they care about to not be afraid to
find out what’s wrong. Don’t be afraid or
feel like you’re betraying anything you taught
yourself and you learned from others by seeking
professional help. I think when I
began to feel better was when I wanted to just crow
from the rooftops, listen. You don’t have to feel this way. I’ve stressed the importance
of knowledge of the symptoms. Because if you don’t know
what the symptoms are, you don’t know you’re depressed. And when I found out that
all these symptoms that I had were for depression, it
was like the whole world was lifted off my shoulders. It’s just like, wait. This can be fixed? And from there, I
don’t want to say it’s easy, but
from there, that’s a huge step, that first step. I’m here, so you
can be here too. Life is so, so tough sometimes. And when you’re
depressed, it just seems like a dead end blackness. And there’s nothing out there. You don’t want to get
out of bed or anything. But on your good
days, everything is just so beautiful
and so, so precious. And those days really,
really, truly outweigh the dark, dark days. If you’re one of the
72% of depressed people who are not letting
yourself be helped, stop it. Go, get help. I do.

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