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Health & Wellness

National Depression Screening Day Tomorrow

Free, confidential screening at four sites on both BU campuses

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Blaise, now a BU sophomore, was 15 when she realized something was wrong. She had lost interest in friends, had thoughts of hurting herself, and swung from unexplained highs to debilitating, anxiety-filled lows—sometimes within the same hour. Eventually, she swallowed a fistful of her mother’s prescription medication in an effort to numb her mental anguish. Afterward, despite initial reluctance, she sought help and learned she was bipolar.

Arriving at BU last fall, Blaise (not her real name) felt herself slipping back into an unstable state. Her mood swings returned and she heard voices while crossing the BU Bridge telling her to “jump off. Just go over and go.”

Mental health has become a concern on college campuses across the country. Nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function,” according to a nationwide survey conducted by the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment in 2009. Students at Boston University are no different. Last February’s Healthy Minds Study, an annual national online survey of college students conducted by the University of Michigan, revealed that 20 percent of BU respondents screened positive for depression or anxiety, compared to 39 percent in 2011 and 30 percent in 2010.

Tomorrow, BU will hold its fourth annual depression screenings on National Depression Screening Day at four sites across the Charles River and Medical Campuses. Students, faculty, and staff can receive a free, confidential screening that takes only about three minutes. Clinicians will be on hand to assess responses and speak to those participants whose answers flag depression and suggest resources available around campus that can help.

About 30 to 40 percent of those screened in each of the past three years showed symptoms of depression, according to Dori Hutchinson (SAR’85,’96), a Sargent College clinical associate professor of occupational therapy and director of services at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, one of the screening organizers. Last year, 263 people were screened and 37 percent showed signs of depression.

Hutchinson remembers speaking to one freshman last October who dropped by her office unannounced five months later. “You said I could come and talk to you if I was having a hard time, and I’m having a hard time,” the student said. Hutchinson hopes more students will follow suit. “The whole goal of the day is to promote the message that your mental health is an important resource in your life,” she says. “It’s as important as getting your blood pressure taken at the doctor’s office.”

People need to “hear that it’s OK if you’re struggling,” she says. “BU’s here to listen.”

Boston University BU depression awareness screening, student health services SHS, addiction, self-injury, suicide, To Write Love on Her Arms

This is BU’s fourth year offering screening for depression on National Depression Screening Day. Photo courtesy of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

While some students arrive at school already diagnosed and being treated for depression, others develop it during their college years—a common time for mental illness to emerge, says Hutchinson. Others struggle with episodic depression brought on by a traumatic event, such as a sudden death or financial and relationship problems. The key is identifying the signs: declining grades, isolation from friends and family, inability to concentrate, eating or sleeping excessively or not enough, risky sexual behaviors, or alcohol and drug use.

Today’s students are among the most gifted, she says, but also the most miserable. “They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders in many ways. They’re very bright, talented, and competent, but they’re also under enormous pressure to be all of those things.”

“They’re not equipped to deal with being independent as much as when we were in college,” says Larry Kohn, director of development at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, another screening organizer. “Parents are so much more involved with kids’ lives, and in a way sometimes that’s detrimental. Kids don’t end up learning from their mistakes, because their parents clear away issues for them. They come to school and the first time there’s a problem with a roommate or a professor, they fall apart.”

The good news is that resiliency, balance, and coping mechanisms can be taught if students seek help from professionals. Hutchinson and Kohn also emphasize the importance of socializing, exercise, a good night’s sleep, and eating well. Mindfulness, or the ability to focus on the moment, can help students break down seemingly impossible tasks into manageable steps. And although medication is not always necessary, it may be for some students.

Blaise says she recognized last fall that she needed help and turned to a BU psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder as well as being bipolar and started her on dialectical behavior therapy. “I wish everyone could go through it,” she says. “It’s basically life skills that everyone needs to know,” such as learning how to accept what you cannot change and identify when your mind is thinking rationally versus emotionally.

Her advice for those suffering from any kind of mental illness is simple. “Take a moment out of your day to think about where you’re at in life and ask whether you feel balanced or not,” in an emotional sense, she says. “If something’s wrong, don’t be scared to talk to someone. There will be someone who cares out there.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 38 percent of BU respondents to the February 2012 Healthy Minds Study screened positive for depression or anxiety.

BU’s fourth annual National Depression Screening Day will be held tomorrow, Thursday, October 11, at four sites across the Charles River and Medical Campuses: the George Sherman Union from noon to 3:30 p.m., Sargent College from 1 to 4 p.m., FitRec from 3 to 6 p.m., and the BUMC Instructional Building from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m.

Those interested in seeking free, confidential mental health counseling can contact Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the Samaritans of Boston suicide hotline, and BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance Office.

Active Minds at BU is a student organization that works to increase awareness of, provide information and resources about, and encourage others to seek help for, mental health issues. The group’s next meeting is tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the College of Arts & Sciences, Room 218. For more information, contact ActiveMindsBU@gmail.com.

5 Comments
Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

5 Comments on National Depression Screening Day Tomorrow

  • James H. Stone on 10.10.2012 at 8:21 am

    National Depression Screening Day Tomorrow at BU

    Boston University is taking a strong lead to help their students with this awful disease. Yes, I said disease, Mental Illness.

    My name is James H. Stone (BU CAS 86’), 5th generation graduate of BU, and retired employee after 26 years at BU.

    And, yes that is my real name.

    People struggle for lifetimes with this disease. It can ruin their lives, it has, it has sadly taken many.

    The words, “OH just get over it.” Are mean and stupid and only come from ignorant people.

    However, mental health diseases can be treated. BUT, the person afflicted must seek help. That is the first and most important step.

    How do I know all this? I’m, bipolar, I have been since I was in my 20’s, I am now in my 50’s. I made it! However, I almost didn’t more times than I care to tell you.

    At the bottom of that dark hole you can find yourself in is a place where all normal caring and love are taken away from you. This is the place you must avoid at all costs. This is why you MUST seek help.

    Boston University is reaching their hands out to YOU. Take their hand, forget all else. I promise you it DOES get better.

    Of sure, I’ve had my slips here and there, however, now I know the signs, now I know what to do to nip it in the bud, now I DON’T struggle the way I did.

    Some people think there is a stigma associated with having mental health issues, and, maybe there is. Early on I tried to keep it a secret and not seek help. Know what? Bad idea!

    Forget what others think, forget what your friends think worry about what you think and what is best for you!.

    I strongly recommend using Boston University resources, they are terrific, they are professional, they are many, they are strictly confidential, yup, they won’t even tell your parents.

    Do it now! Get help.

    James H. Stone, CAS 86’
    5th Generation graduate
    26 year employee

    Happy and strong, you be too.

    • Go BU! on 10.10.2012 at 11:22 am

      Thank you, James.

  • Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor on 10.10.2012 at 10:55 am

    I am so pleased about this. Back in the 70s I was at BU and became depressed, (sleeping all day, crying when I was awake, the usual symptoms). I went to the BU doctor and he opened a desk drawer and gave me 10 days of anti-biotics, telling me “it’s almost always mono”. When that didn’t work, I was sent over to the psych department where they gave me a huge questionaire asking about my relationships with my parents, but no help. My doctor from home assured me that 4 out of 5 of his patients only came to the doctor because they needed someone to talk to, and ordered a mammogram because I hadn’t had one before. And I’m sure this was all better than treatment for depression in the 50s and 60s (and earlier). Progress is being made, although it cannot be fast enough for those suffering.
    In the past 40 years we have learned that there are many causes, and thus many treatments for depression. The only advice I can offer is to let your friends help if you have it, and help your friends if it looks like they do. One of the worst parts of depression is that it steals the energy you have to look for yet another possible treatment.

  • Free stuff on 10.10.2012 at 1:48 pm

    There is going to be free chocolate and pens!

  • MH on 10.11.2012 at 2:39 pm

    Went to the one at SAR and it was so helpful! If you are struggling, I really encourage you to check it out.

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