Semester Stress: Don’t Let It Escalate

By Missy Henry

The quote, “Nothing kills a man faster than his own head,” from the band Twenty One Pilots, is all too true when talking about depression. With numerous songs about mental illness and depression, it’s no wonder that Twenty One Pilots has grown in popularity among young adults. Statistics show that undergraduates are becoming more and more depressed as time goes on, yet not enough people are seeking help. According to Jane Collingwood, author of Depression in Students, “Combined anxiety disorder and depression affected about 16 percent of undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 2007, with thoughts of suicide among two percent of students.” There is still a stigma surrounding depression that provokes people into believing the worst about this illness. It is because of this that no one is willing to come out to others and discuss possible treatments or medications. I believe that undergraduate students need to be more open about their depression so that they can discuss all of their options with a professional therapist for treatment, and thus they gain a better perspective on life.

When people hear the word “depression,” they tend to think that the people who have it are somehow less capable of being normal and carrying on with day to day activities. It’s possible that they also think about how irrational and expressive depression makes people. It is for this reason that people want to stay away from those who have this illness; they want to stay away from the topic in general. So, to those who have it, they don’t want to glorify it and seek attention. They also might not want people to think that something is wrong with them.  However, it is better to seek out treatment earlier rather than later. According to Kevin Caruso, on Suicide.org, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. And the number one cause of suicide for college student suicides (and all suicides) is untreated depression.” Depression is not just a feeling of sadness, but rather it can evolve from a chemical imbalance in the brain. The hippocampus, which is located at the center of the brain, will release chemicals. Cortisol is the stress chemical; so, most young adults will feel this in times of taking exams, moving out, having to pay for bills, or interviewing for jobs. When depression sets in, it is partially because the hippocampus is producing and releasing too much of this chemical. The amygdala shares responsibility for depression as well. This area of the brain is accountable for a person’s emotions. With depression, the amygdala becomes more active, and thus the victim of this illness is subject to feel that emotion for a longer period of time. This gives the illusion of feeling trapped and that the happy chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, will never be felt again.

Another section of the brain that affects depression would be the prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in emotional regulation. With the extra amount of cortisol, the prefrontal cortex will shrink and struggle with doing its job. Of course, brain chemistry is not the only cause of depression. Hormonal imbalance within the body can also trigger a state of depression. The changes in one’s hormonal balance can result from pregnancy, certain types of birth control, thyroid issues, and many more. Depression is also somewhat linked to inheritance. While the specific gene is not yet determined, studies show that depression is more common for people who have family members struggling with the illness.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, not a choice to be sad, which is what many people fail to understand. There are numerous symptoms that people have heard of in regard to depression such as suicidal thoughts or actions. However, there are other symptoms that people are not aware of, thus making the choice to get help even harder. Some of these symptoms would be things like physical aches, changes in weight or appetite, feelings of fatigue, trouble sleeping, inconsistent memory, being disinterested in socializing, and being disinterested in sexual activity. While many of these indicators are overlooked and ignored, it is important to understand the reasoning as to why they are there. Catching these problems early on not only makes the diagnosis quicker, but it also lessens the duration of feeling this way. There are other risks that could lead to depression such as having self-esteem issues, going through traumatic events, having a history with other mental health disorders, having a chronic medical condition, and being comfortable with one’s own sexuality.

Another reason as to why people with depression neglect to seek treatment is because they fear what the medication will do to their bodies. However, if medication is needed in order to help fix the chemical imbalance in the brain, it is important to try. There are also several options out there. So if one doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean another won’t. Finding the right medication is one of the toughest parts, but once that’s done, you can focus on getting better. While medication helps, there are other factors that one can

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Source: Mental Health Commission of Canada

change in order to help lower the depression. For example, sticking to a healthy diet and exercise plan is a great way to boost brain cells and the happy chemicals. Another key factor in helping recover from depression would be to get a full eight hours of sleep. Sleeping for the correct number of hours, and sleeping deeply throughout, will help repair damaged brain cells and help grow new ones. It is also important to stay away from alcohol and illegal drugs. Both of these substances can kill brain cells, and since the idea is to repair and grow new cells, obviously staying away from these drugs is essential.

Some individuals with depression may believe that they can handle this illness on their own, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While being on an antidepressant is not the end all be all, it can help victims feel better about their lives. There is the process of trial and error when it comes to medication, but the bottom line is that it can help to fix the chemical issues in the brain. If medication is not an option, try therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy. Holy Family has a free counseling center located on the second floor of the Campus Center. If you’re someone who is struggling with this illness, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of people out there who struggle silently just like you.

Missy Henry  is a third-year secondary education major who loves horror and suspense films.