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Fight the stigma - get screened

By Staff Editorial
On October 15, 2012

With midterms approaching, it can be easy to get swept up in the innumerable stresses of college life.  Hours of homework and projects start to pile up, until the workload seems insurmountable.  New friends can start to reveal darker true natures and the temptations of drugs and alcohol seem inescapable.  The joys of life fade away, until all that is left is an endless parade of bleak, grey stress.

A shocking number of college students experience depression and other mental health issues during their tenure in college.  According to the American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment in Fall 2011, over 45 percent of students reported "feeling hopeless" within the past 12 months and over 85 percent felt overwhelmed by their workloads.  Thirty percent of students had felt "so depressed it was difficult to function" within the past 12 months of when the assessment was made. 

Despite these alarming figures, few make the step from admitting these feelings to confronting the problems.  Recently, a study of 320 schools reported 133 student suicides, of which only 20 had sought help through their college or university.  Suicide is the second highest cause of death among college students, with over 1,000 suicide victims every year. 

While awareness of mental health is becoming more prevalent, there is still a harsh stigma in society toward mental illness, partially due to the subjectivity and lack of obvious physical symptoms.  Depression, despite its prevalence in young adults, can be difficult to understand. Symptoms can be as vague and capricious as insomnia or wanting to sleep too much, or constant low-self esteem and difficulty concentrating.  Friends and family may also have preconceived notions about the nature of depression or mental illness and so are less understanding of the need to take medication or see a counselor.  Depression can also be viewed as a sign of weakness instead of a disease, heightening the stigma.  Groups such as Active Minds at Kirkwood Community College are helping to raise awareness and break the stigma of mental disorders. On Oct. 8, the group participated in the National Day without Stigma.

High levels of stress may cause or worsen depression, as well as causing alarming physical symptoms, such as hair loss, skin breakouts, weight loss or gain, reproductive irregularities and gastrointestinal difficulties.  A few simple changes in routine can help to combat stress.  Regular exercise, even a brisk walk, can help release the body's tension, as well as allowing regular, short breaks from the stressors.  Perhaps most crucially, students with high stress levels should talk to a trustworthy friend or relative about their troubles or consider seeing a counselor through Kirkwood. Anonymous screenings are available online at any time and the counseling office, on the first floor of Iowa Hall, can be reached in person or at 319-398-5471.

Students who feel they could be suffering from depression, anxiety or high stress should consider attending the Depression Screening in Iowa Hall on Oct. 11 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  While not a cure in itself, awareness of one's own personal mental health is a step against fighting the disease and the stigma.

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