Harris: The Silent Chaos of Depression

The struggle against depression needs more attention at Dartmouth.

by Holden Harris | 5/5/17 12:30am

Depression is a serious issue among college students. It is one we often discuss but rarely act to resolve. Because we cannot assume that students with depression will reach out for help, we may not react in time to help a student in need. May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I believe it’s up to students — and not just College programs — to take action to end depression rather than waste time discussing it.

Statistics don’t show any progress in helping college students deal with depression. According to a Healthline study from 2012, 44 percent of American college students “report having symptoms of depression” while 75 percent of students “do not seek help for mental health problems.” If three out of four college students do not seek help, what does giving “options” actually do? The New York Times reported in 2015 that 9.5 percent of college students — out of a sample size of over 150,000 — had frequently “felt depressed” during the past year, an increase from 6.1 percent five years before. The survey also found that those reporting they “felt overwhelmed” by schoolwork and other commitments rose to 34.6 percent from 27.1 percent five years earlier.

Depression among college students is rising. How can we continue to say that we are making an effort if evidence indicates that we’re going backward? We have to stop assuming our efforts are helping and start treating depression like a disease.

Not enough is being done to enact change. We see Breast Cancer Awareness marches down city streets. We just saw a massive protest, the Women’s March, advocate for gender equality. No one organizes marches to the White House to advocate for depression awareness. And when the worst does happen, we often only hope that it never happens again without working to ensure that it does not. We only think what could have been done after the fact, rather than what should be done to prevent its effects. This is not an effective way to approach depression. If we never change our efforts, we are indirectly contributing to pain and suffering.

At the beginning of middle school, I lost a friend to cancer. As a young kid, I didn’t know what to think. I had all types of emotions rushing through me, especially the feeling of having no control. This thought threw me down a dark path. Depression ate me up for months, even years, before I regained my sense of self. I had to talk to therapists, my friends, my parents. I cried myself to sleep for months. I know the pain that comes not just from tragedy but from depression. Depression is like being cornered and not knowing how to escape.

On campus, Dartmouth has provided students with information about depression, the signs of depression and where to receive help. Resources like the Counseling and Human Development office and the counselor-on-call may not be everything needed to combat this issue, but they are useful. We cannot blame the administration for all our own faults. Students’ focus on depression is lacking, and that needs to change. We are too fixated on papers, finals and daily work to focus on other students in need. Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard to detect who is depressed. “Duck syndrome” is a popular way to describe the struggles of college students with depression, using the metaphor of a duck that “appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.” Depression can be hidden from those around us just like a duck paddling through the water conceals her motion beneath the surface.

Robin Williams, whose struggle with depression ultimately claimed his life, once said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” I couldn’t put it better.