National Depression Screening Day Tomorrow
Free, confidential screening at four sites on both BU campuses
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.”
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