HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

Table of Contents

 Section I–Common Health Problems Caution

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“Feeling depressed is so common among girls in my dorm that I thought it was just a normal part of college. When it got to be too much for me to handle, I went to the Counseling Center. With the counselor’s help, I’m coping with my moods much better now.”

Mary L., University of Cincinnati

Depression is the most common reason college students go to their school’s counseling service. Depression makes a person less able to manage life. It affects a person’s mood, mind, body, and behaviors.

Signs & Symptoms

A person who is depressed has one or more of the signs and symptoms listed below.

bullet Feeling sad, hopeless, and helpless
bullet Feeling guilty and/or worthless
bullet Thinking negative thoughts
bullet Having a loss of interest in things, such as social activities, hobbies, and sex.
bullet Sleeping too little or too much
bullet Fatigue or loss of energy
bullet Problems concentrating or making decisions
bullet Ongoing physical symptoms, such as headaches, chronic pain, or digestive problems that don’t respond to treatment
bullet Uncontrollable crying
bullet Poor appetite with weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
bullet Thoughts of suicide or death

The number and severity of the symptoms vary from person to person.

Causes & Risk Factors

bullet Major changes and stress that accompany college, including choosing career goals, leaving home, and the strain from trying to study and socialize at the same time
bullet Obsessing about expenses
bullet Abuse of alcohol, drugs, and some medications
bullet Relationship changes, such as break ups, a family divorce, or the death of someone close
bullet Brain chemical imbalances. Also, some types of depression run in families.
bullet Hormonal changes. This could be from taking birth control pills or using anabolic steroids, which can cause changes in mood.
bullet Lack of natural, unfiltered sunlight between late fall and spring. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It may only affect some people that are prone to this disorder.
bullet Holiday “blues”

Most likely, depression is caused by a mix of: Family traits; brain chemical imbalances; emotional issues; and other factors, like a medical illness, such as multiple sclerosis.

In some people, events like extreme stress and grief may cause depression. In others, depression occurs even when life is going well.


Treatment includes medicines, psychotherapy, and other therapies that are specific to the cause of the depression. Exposure to bright lights (similar to sunlight) for depression that results from SAD can be helpful. {Note: Some antidepressant medicines can increase the risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in children and adolescents. This risk may be higher within the first days to a month after starting the medicine. Persons who take antidepressants should be closely monitored.}

Questions to Ask

Have you just attempted suicide or are you planning suicide? Do you have persistent thoughts of suicide or death? Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Have you had a lot less interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks? Yes. See Provider.


Have you been in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks, and had any 4 of the following for at least 2 weeks?
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless,  guilty, slowed down or restless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Problems concentrating, thinking, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired all of the time
  • Headaches or other aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Feeling anxious or worried
Yes. See Provider.


Has depression kept you from doing daily tasks for more than 2 weeks and caused you to withdraw from normal activities? Yes. See Provider.


Has the depression occurred as the result of any of the following?
  • Taking over-the-counter or a prescribed medication
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • A medical problem
  • Recent delivery of a baby
Yes. Call Provider.


Are you feeling depressed now and do any of the following apply?
  • You have been depressed before and not received treatment.
  • You have been treated for depression in the past and it has returned.
  • You have taken medication for depression in the past.
Yes. Call Provider.


During holiday times, do you do one or both of the following?
  • Withdraw from family and friends
  • Dwell on past holidays to the point that it interferes with your present life
Yes. Call Provider.


Does the depression come with dark, cloudy weather or winter months and does it lift when spring comes? Yes. Call Provider.




Take medications as prescribed. Get your doctor’s advice before you take over-the-counter herbs, such as St. John’s Wort, especially if you take other medications.


Avoid drugs and alcohol. These can cause or worsen depression. Drugs and alcohol can also make medicines for depression less effective. Harmful side effects can occur when drugs and/or alcohol are mixed with medicine.


Eat healthy foods. Eat at regular times.


Get some physical activity every day.


Talk to someone who will listen to the tensions and frustrations you are feeling.

bullet Try not to isolate yourself. Be with people you trust and feel safe with, even though you feel down.
bullet Do things you enjoy. Do something that lets you express yourself. Draw. Paint. Write your thoughts in a diary or journal.
bullet Relax. Listen to soft music, take a warm bath or shower. Do relaxation exercises.
bullet Avoid stressful situations or taking on added commitments when you feel depressed.
bullet Keep an emergency number handy (e.g., crisis hotline, trusted friend’s number, etc.) in case you feel desperate.

Feeling better takes time. Don’t expect to just “snap out” of your depression.

To Help A Friend Who Is Depressed

bullet Help your friend get an appropriate diagnosis. Make an initial appointment with a professional and offer to take your friend.
bullet Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Report them, immediately, to a student advisor, teacher, or health care provider.
bullet Be aware of the type of medication your friend needs to take and when it should be taken. If necessary, alert your friend’s health care provider about any side effects that you notice.
bullet Be supportive. Depression is no different from any other physical illness. It requires patience, understanding, love, and encouragement. Encourage your friend to continue with treatment and to see his or her health care provider if there is no improvement.
bullet Listen with care. Point out your friend’s successes and attributes when he or she feels worthless, helpless, or down about the future. Helping your friend see previous successes can help give the confidence needed to continue with treatment. Your friend doesn’t need you to tell him or her what to do. Listening is very helpful.
bullet Encourage your friend to go out and do things with you or with others, such as to see a movie or to do things your friend enjoyed in the past.  Don’t push, though, or make too many demands.
bullet Seek support from organizations (see places listed below) that deal with depression.

Encourage your friend
to talk about his or
her feelings

ComputerFor Information, Contact:

Your school’s Student Counseling Service or Student Mental Health Service. (Normally, these services are no cost to you.)

National Mental Health Association
800.969.NMHA (6642)

National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc.

National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse

©2005, 6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.
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December 08, 2005