Lyndsey Wajert: Addressing symptoms of sadness

Typical college students exhibit signs of depression or symptoms of sadness at varying times throughout their college careers.

For some, the sadness of college life kicks in a few weeks after the start of classes in the form of homesickness.

For others, the sadness of the post-holiday interim, or “seasonal” depression, occurs after the start of the new semester, when students return from winter break.

But for an increasing amount of college students, moodiness, sadness and depression are facets of everyday life – and do not simply come in stages.

According to a report featured in an October National Public Radio broadcast, an increasing number of college students are dealing with not only homesickness, seasonal depression or work-related stress, but severe clinical depression, anxiety and eating disorders. The article reports, “In 2007, around 15 percent of students reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives; that’s up from 10 percent in 2000.”

Students at GW are included among that number, and some must work through diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues every day. The Hatchet reported earlier this month that the University noted that “scheduled individual appointments at the counseling center increased by 34 percent in the first quarter of this year.”

While the University Counseling Center has been taking significant steps to raise awareness and encourage students to use the services it offers, there are some aspects of the way the UCC currently conducts business that could be altered to further help Colonials.

The UCC has made laudable efforts to increase awareness about the issues plaguing students and the way students can seek help. Hosting events such as National Depression Screening Day, along with activities such as relaxation workshops, the UCC and its Peer Educator Program have done a lot to address students’ needs and reduce the stigma surrounding therapy. These events and activities are both helpful and necessary.

But once a student learns about depression and the UCC, the current process of making an appointment and actually seeking help, while not that difficult, could be made even easier.

To make an appointment, a student can call via phone for an initial evaluation. This requires a certain amount of time and privacy that may or may not be possible for some students. What if a student is not able to sit in a comfortable, quiet residence hall room to discuss deeply personal problems? Are they to sit in public and make that phone call? UCC should better encourage an initial face-to-face evaluation or even walk-in appointments. This step could make the process of finding long-term help even easier.

Regarding this long-term help, the options for treatment post-consultation differ. But for those students seeking treatment in individual sessions, a fee does come into play. While this is a sensible way for the UCC to fund its services, having to pay $50 could deter some students. The UCC is willing to lower the fee on a case-by-case basis, but it still presents an issue. Taking that amount off of GWorld or out of a bank account could raise a red flag for parents, a problem for a student who wants to handle his or her treatment privately. Then there are those students who just can’t afford it. Besides accepting every sliding-scale fee application they receive, the UCC should also consider lowering the general fee.

These are just two steps the UCC can take to ensure that every student who learns about its services can actually utilize them. While some students only experience average symptoms of sadness, an alarmingly high amount of students continue to battle severe problems, and GW needs to do everything it can to help.

Next issue, the author will publish a follow-up column looking at how other universities are dealing with the increase of depression on campus.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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