Depression Awareness Month highlights the need for mental health education

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Depression Awareness Month highlights the need for mental health education

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For those not afflicted, depression might never cross the mind. But people diagnosed with the serious mood disorder might be unable to think of anything else.

“I feel like there are groups out there who [think], ‘This isn’t an issue,’” said UNO student Becky Leigh.*

To that end, October has been designated Depression Awareness Month. The purpose of this designation is to teach people about the nature of the disorder and how they can find or give help. Though depression is common30 percent of college students report having depression,  according to the American College Health Associationit is frequently misunderstood.

“Most people don’t have the correct perception of mental illness,” computer science student Nehal Ameen says. “Some tell people with depression that they’re just crazy … but it’s not something someone should be ashamed of.”

A lack of help, support or compassion can aggravate a mental illness, but even without this obstacle, finding a cure can be difficult.

“People haven’t looked at mental health seriously until 30-40 years ago,” Leigh said. “We can still do more research.”

Treatment normally consists of therapy, medication or both. However, finding effective e treatment may pose its own challenges.

“Therapists are hard to approach,” Leigh stated. “I suggest to keep on trying until you find the right therapist. The first try [or] the second try may not be the best. I recommend to just keep on trying.”

Sometimes, people suffering from depression can find help outside a doctor’s office.

“Talking to friends helps,” Leigh said. “If you can’t reach out in social life, try to find a hobby. Try to find games to play or some books. And therapeutic animals can help.”

UNO Counseling Services is among the many resources available to help those in need.

On Oct. 11, National Depression Screening Day, Counseling Services held depression screenings behind the UC to combat depression amongst college students.

“Depression is a common mental illness, much more common than people are aware of. [It] robs students of things they need in order to achieve academic goals,” said Dr. Rosamond Myers, director of Counseling Services. “That can result in self-blame. It’s not about ability or will. It’s depression.”

Myers added that while depressed people are often advised to “get over it,” this isn’t an effective strategy. But she does stand behind the effectiveness of help from friends. “There’s a lot of research in the improvement [of a mental illness] by social support,” Myers said.

For depressed people who already grapple with daily tasks, seeking help and support can be a burden. As Leigh explained, “It’s hard for some people to branch out.”

Stay aware of who might be in trouble, and offer support if you can. “If somebody is struggling, just being with them and being kind [can help] – you don’t have to solve their problems,” Myers said. “Just let them know you’d like to help, [and] encourage them.”

As for suicidal thoughts, it’s best to address them. Myers says it’s a common misconception that asking about suicidal thoughts will put the idea in the individual’s head.

“If anyone is concerned that their friend is having suicidal thoughts, they should ask directly,” Myers said.

“Getting help is the most important thing to do,” Becky Leigh said. “Ignorance can lead to suicide if [the issue] is not dealt with.”

 

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide annually. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available at 1-800-273-8255, and the Crisis Text Line offers aid via text at 741-741. And there are always things people can do to elevate their mood on their own.

 

“There are a lot of things people can do to help themselves. Exercise is known to help,” Myers said. “Bibliotherapy (reading books) is a very good thing. Research shows that it is.”

In addition, those diagnosed with depression can supplement their treatment by using workbooks made for their specific needs. For example, books like “The Depression Workbook” by Mary Ellen Copeland or the “Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Dr. Edmund Bourne can be helpful guides for those working through mental illness on their own. However, it’s important to avoid self-diagnosis.

“I think people [self-diagnose] more and more now because of the internet, but don’t diagnose yourself,” Myers said. “It will jack up a person’s anxiety unnecessarily.”

Alternative treatment can include cognitive therapy, a tactic which Counseling Services uses.

“The way we think of things can affect our emotional reactions, but they can also be used to reframe mood,” Myers said. “We don’t do formal diagnosing, but [screenings] are free, and [for short-term counseling], there’s a sliding-scale fee.”

UNO Counseling Services is available in UC 226 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center offers a variety of services to those who are in need or think they might be in need. Information about other local resources can also be found on flyers inside the office.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimated in 2019 that at least 6.9 percent of the American population has or had some major depressive episode. Luckily, “Depression is usually quite treatable,” Myers said.

Ameen was also optimistic. “You can learn how to live with [the disease].”

 

*Name changed for anonymity.