We all go through ups and downs in our mood. Sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, setbacks, and disappointments. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but clinical depression is much more than just sadness. Depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs a person’s day-to-day life, interfering with the ability to study, work, eat, sleep, and have fun. The feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting, with little, if any, relief. Some depressed students experience agitation, anxiety, and intense anger. The student may begin to show inconsistent class attendance or stop going out with their friends or roommates. Some students have recurrent thoughts of destruction and are preoccupied with death. Some desire to escape the pain through suicide. Fortunately, depression responds to treatment, with eighty to ninety percent of those treated showing improvement.
Many, if not most, students will experience reactive or situational depression at some point in their academic careers. It is a natural emotional and a physical response to the academic demands and challenges as well as life’s ups and downs. Depression is considered more severe when it interferes with the student’s ability to function in school, in social environments, or at work. Without treatment, depression can last weeks, months or years.
When you observe a depressed student:
- When possible, see the student in private.
- Mention that you have noticed that s/he appears to be feeling down and you would like to help.
- Encourage the student to discuss how s/he is feeling.
- Listen to the information the student is sharing.
- Be supportive and express your concern about the situation.
- Be directive and concise about an action plan.
- Initiate the action plan, such as having the student call from your office for a counseling appointment.
- Ask if the student has any thought of suicide. For example, “Have you had thoughts of taking yoru life?” Don’t ignore remarks about suicide. If the student shares thoughts of suicide:
- When possible, assist the student to make an appointment with Counseling & Psychiatry Services (656-3340) and request to speak with a triage counselor, or contact Police Services if the situation warrants it. The student can be seen immediately by a triage counselor in CAPS during working hours (M-F 8:00am-5:00pm). If you feel uncomfortable with the student, or if you are unable to accompany the student to one of these services, please contact CAPS (656-3340)) for consultation and guidance, or the Dean of Students Office (656-3380).
- If the student is in immediate danger, call 911 or 6-3473 from campus phones.
- If it is after hours and the student is not in immediate danger, encourage the student to talk with a licensed counselor by phone by calling 802-656-3340, to connect with an on-call counselor.
- Seek consultation even if the student is not willing to go to counseling. Call Counseling & Psychiatry Services or the Dean of Students Office at 656-3380.
- Ignore the student.
- Minimize the situation (for example by saying “Everything will be better tomorrow”)
- Argue with the student or chastise them for poor or incomplete work.
- Provide too much information for the student to process and retain.
- Expect the student to stop feeling depressed without some form of intervention.
- Be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal if you think she/he may be.
Resources at UVM
With MyWellbeing, students can:
- Make appointments and check on upcoming appointment times
- Exchange confidential, Secure Messages with health care provider or counselor
- View lab results
- Fill out health forms and questionnaires that become part of electronic health record at UVM
- Fulfill immunization requirements
- Update local contact information to reach when needed
National Institute of Mental Health
The federal government's public education campaign to raise awareness about depression and encourage depressed people to seek help. Provides free brochures and materials in English and Spanish.
Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance
A national membership organization representing and coordinated by people with depressive and manic-depressive illness. Offers patient support groups, advocacy, and educational brochures.
Depression & Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA), 888-288-1104.
Provides education and information about affective disorders and assists support groups of individuals with affective disorders and family members.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2107 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22201. (703) 524-7600 or (800) 950-6264.
A support and advocacy organization whose members are relatives of people with serious mental illness. Affiliates offer family support self-help groups and educational materials nationwide.
National Mental Health Association. 2000 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22331. (800) 969-6642
The nation's oldest and largest volunteer mental health organization. Offers patient/family support services, depression information materials, and community outreach programs.