Tanner Early, Guest Writer

More than 16 million American adults have experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Mental Health. The DSM-5, the diagnostic manual by psychologists, has defined depression as experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in previously beloved activities. 

One of those 16 million is University of Missouri–St. Louis student Elaine English. In her experience, depression is a “dark cloud” always hanging over her that influences all aspects of her life, particularly in her academics and relationships. 

Her academic life has suffered as English found herself unable to function during depressive episodes. She said, “I can’t go to class, I can’t work on homework, often times I can’t leave my bed. As I fall further behind, it only worsens my anxiety and depression.” For her, depression acted in a vicious cycle with her academic responsibilities. English began to feel hopeless as she fell “further into a hole.”   

Her social life is similarly affected. Even minor interactions with friends can be draining. Depression has caused a disconnect in communication between English and her friends. She said, “[Friends] don’t understand I’m not purposely avoiding them, I’m not being short with them. I’m just trying the best I can…it just pushes us further apart. When I do force myself to interact, my sadness leaks out, and people don’t want to be around negativity.” 

English’s experiences are far from uncommon for college students experiencing depression. Dr. Laura Holt, a licensed psychologist and outreach coordinator for UMSL Counseling Services, spoke about how depression causes devastation in students’ academic and social lives. “Depression,” Holt said, “makes it very difficult to motivate yourself to go to class and complete work. A lot of people who are depressed don’t acknowledge this effect, instead it feels like they are failing at school because of a defect in them.”

Holt continued on to discuss the effects she’s seen depression have on students’ social lives. It causes students to experience low self worth and feel that others do not want to be around them. A cycle forms from the lowered self esteem and from feeling a lack of support from friends.

While no absolute cures have been found for mood disorders such as depression, it can be treated. Dr. Holt elaborated on treatment options for students suffering from depression. Holt said, “Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is as effective at relieving symptoms as medication, but therapy and medication in combination works better than either alone.” 

English suggested a way that friends can help loved ones who suffer from depression by simply listening to them. She said, “Be an outlet they can depend on and trust. Don’t try to push advice or ‘fix’ them. Sometimes all we need is to know we’re loved and supported when we are in our darkest places.”