It is not unusual to experience times of sadness, disappointment, or dissatisfaction. A sad or depressed mood may last an hour or two, or even up to a few days at a time before it lifts. This is a normal experience that is experienced by virtually everyone at one time or another. Depression, however, is much more than a feeling of sadness that passes on its own. Major Depressive Disorder is a persistent and serious mental illness affecting 5%-8% of the adult population. People who struggle with depression a persistently sad or irritable mood, significant changes in sleep, appetite, and energy, problems with thinking, concentration, and memory, physical slowness or excessive energy, loss of pleasure from activities they formerly enjoyed, excessive guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness, and frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Left untreated, major depression can last for many months and significantly impair the quality of one's life. In the worst cases, it leads to suicide. Fortunately, depression is a very treatable illness and responds best to a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Major Depressive Disorder is only one of several depressive disorders. Others include dysthymia, a chronically sad mood and low energy, seasonal affective disorder, a depressive disorder that fluctuates with the seasons, and bipolar disorder, an illness in which one's mood fluctuates between episodes of depression and episodes of mania (persistently elevated mood and energy, poor sleep, high risk behavior). All depressive disorders have been shown to respond well to treatment. If you are concerned you may be depressed, make an appointment to talk with a CAPS therapist. Depression is common among college-aged people, and our therapists have many years of experience helping Wesleyan students overcome their depression and have meaningful, enjoyable lives. If you are worried about a friend, express your concern in an empathic, nonjudgmental way and encourage him or her to make an appointment at CAPS. If your friend refuses, you can call us and come in to talk about your concerns and possible ways to convince your friend to seek treatment. If your friend mentions suicide, immediately contact CAPS, PSafe, your Dean, or your Res Life staff and report your concerns. Visit the Depression and Bipolar Alliance (DBSA) website for more information.
Self-injury is intentionally harming one's body without suicidal intent. It is common among adolescents and young adults, and may take the form of cutting, burning, skin-picking, hair-pulling, head-banging, and hitting. Most people who engage in self-injury do so in secret and tell few if any people about it for fear of being judged or misunderstood. Most of the time, people self-injure when they are experiencing intensely distressing and overwhelming emotions. The act of self-injury serves to calm them and helps them manage their distress. In this way, it can be understood as a maladaptive coping mechanism. For other people, self-injury helps them break through emotional numbness and allows them to feel alive or "real." While self-injury is not a suicide attempt, there is always a risk that a person may make a mistake (e.g. cut too deep) and inadvertently die as a result. Self-injury is often, but not always, accompanied by a depressive disorder. People who self-injure may instead have a personality disorder, an anxiety disorder, or a psychotic spectrum disorder. Those who self-injure typically feel intense shame over their behavior and are extremely reluctant to disclose to anyone, even their own therapist. The therapists at CAPS are comfortable and experienced with helping students who self-injure. Perhaps most importantly, we are non-judgmental. If you are struggling with self-injury, come in to CAPS and talk with one of us about it. We can help you overcome this behavior and begin to utilize healthier, more adaptive coping tools to manage your overwhelming distress.
When we lose someone close to us, our experience is probably similar to depression in some ways. We feel intense sadness, emotional pain, and loss. We cry. We may have trouble sleeping and/or lose our appetite. We may lose interest in the activities we normally enjoy, or withdraw from social interaction. These feelings may last a few weeks or months or even longer. In spite of these similarities, grief is very different from depression. Grief is not a disorder and it does not require treatment. It is a normal emotional response to the death of a loved relative or friend. Uncomplicated grief resolves itself without intervention in some period of time that is unique to the person experiencing it; for some it takes several months, while for others only weeks. Many times grieving people gain significant comfort from the company and support of others who are going through the same experience. The Wesleyan Grief Support Group is a student-led group that meets weekly during the academic year. For more information about the group, please contact Dr. Jennifer D'Andrea at 685.2910.