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University of Arizona students struggle with depression

from The Daily Arizona Wildcat

For most University of Arizona students, re-adjusting to school life after summer break can be a difficult task.

Come October, some students' stress levels go up and plateau until the semester's end with classes requiring back-to-back presentations, papers and tests.

During November, Residence Life sends out bulletins warning hall directors and resident assistants to watch out for depression and anxiety.

Studio arts freshman Graham Wichman said that he often feels bombarded by schoolwork and as a newcomer to the UA, adjusting to college life hasn't always been easy.

"Teachers expect a lot. If you have four or five classes, your workload can be overwhelming," Wichman said. "Lately I feel like I'm doing something every second of the day."

But Wichman said he does not feel like he's the only student who struggles.

"I'm sure there's a large percentage of students here that are dealing with depression right now," Wichman said.

With the suicide of a freshman in Sierra Residence Hall last week, and a recent flare-up of suicides on college campuses around the country, the anxiety of college life and its effects on students' mental health have come under scrutiny.

New York University saw three student suicides in the first two months of the fall semester.

According to statistics provided by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a mental health advocacy organization, over 1,000 American students between the ages of 18 and 24 commit suicide every year.

Suicide now ranks as the third leading cause of death among college students, the organization reports.

Mirian Binder, a clinical psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services, isn't sure that depression has increased significantly solely among college students.

She said that she believes in general, levels of depression have risen in society.

"There's no doubt that we've seen an increase in people presenting depression in the last 15 years," Binder said.

Binder also said that it's important not to generalize depression and to understand the different levels of severity involved.

"Depression runs on a very big continuum," Binder said.

While some forms of depression might simply leave a person feeling overwhelmed or sad, other forms might leave a person seeing life as totally futile.

"Depression is not a homogenous entity," Binder said.

Barbara Weeks, an accounting junior, said that as a freshman, she temporarily dealt with depression due to a situation at home.

Weeks said that support groups offered to students through CAPS helped her to feel better.

If you suspect it, do something about it.

- Norma Carlson,
former president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's southern Arizona chapter


But not all students get the same kind of successful support that Weeks did from the counseling services.

Adequately funded and easily accessible mental health resources on college campuses are often not the norm, said Lollie Butler, board member of the Southern Arizona chapter of NAMI.

Binder said that UA's center has suffered budget cuts along with almost every other department, but she said that has not affected the way the center meets the needs of students.

While Elizabeth Drucker, a psychology freshman, said that CAPS does provide a lot of support for students, she wants to start up a group that will help students get long term counseling.

Drucker is trying to establish an organization similar to one that was recently started at ASU.

Two years ago, two students at ASU started one of the first National Alliance for Mental Illness-sponsored chapters on a college campus in the country.

The ASU NAMI chapter is not intended to replace counseling services for students. It works to raise awareness about mental illness and deconstruct the stigma surrounding it.

"Students need a forum where they can feel comfortable in expressing their deepest emotions," Drucker said. "Many students with depression and other such illnesses have a tendency to isolate. When they know they have a safe place to go to, they might be able to make some friends who will not judge them based on their experience with depression."

But Binder said that group counseling might not be the best form of therapy for everyone.

Norma Carlson, former president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's southern Arizona chapter, lost her son Charlie to suicide 12 years ago.

She said that college students often feel unable to talk to their parents or friends for various reasons, and they force themselves to be cheerful.

Carlson said that people need to understand the warning signs of severe depression or suicidal behavior because it can be harder for someone to hide the signs of severe depression at home.

One warning sign is a sudden change in behavior, Carlson said.

After Charlie's suicide, his roommates admitted to Carlson that her son had become increasingly aggressive and despondent.

"If you suspect it, do something about it," Carlson said.

Students can learn more about depression, anxiety and mental illness by visiting the CAPS Web site at and clicking on the link for clinical and counseling services.

On the Web site, students can take confidential online screening tests for depression and anxiety, and are provided with links to several mental health organizations and support groups including Ulifeline.

Ulifeline is sponsored by the Jed Foundation, which was set up by Phil and Donna Satow after their son, Jed, committed suicide at the UA in 1998. Last week's suicide was the first suicide to occur on campus since.

Students who are interested in helping to set up a NAMI campus chapter here at the University of Arizona should contact Elizabeth Drucker at  Students and others interested in setting up a NAMI college affiliate at other schools should email for more information.

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