Depression/Mood Disorders

Living away from home for the first time, financial worries, academic pressures and relationship concerns can all lead someone to feel down and can affect your self-esteem and functioning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 19 million Americans are affected by depressive disorders.

Symptoms of Depressive Episodes

  • Depressed mood for more than 2 weeks
  • Insomnia or sleeping much more than usual
  • Changes in appetite, eating more or less than usual
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Decreased interest in usual activities
  • Poor concentration
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Decreased sexual interest
  • Guilt
  • Isolation
  • Thoughts of suicide

Most research points to heredity, environment and brain chemistry changes contributing to the development of depression. At times there may not appear to be a specific trigger for symptoms. Depression is not about being lazy, weak or lacking willpower.

When you recognize the symptoms of depression, or your functioning becomes impaired, it may be time to seek professional help. Meeting with an individual therapist, primary care doctor or psychiatrist can be a good place to start. Sometimes medications can be helpful to alleviate the symptoms that are affecting your ability to navigate the activities of daily life. There are also things you can do that may affect your mood. Staying active, exercise, avoiding drugs and alcohol, regular sleep and supportive relationships, all have a positive impact on symptoms of depression. Be patient with yourself. Getting better takes time.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formally known as manic-depressive illness, is characterized by dramatic shifts of mood from extreme “highs” to episodes of deep depression. The mood changes go beyond the usual ups and downs that most people experience throughout the course of life. Approximately 1% of the population is thought to be affected by bipolar disorder. Men and women are affected equally. A majority of those affected begin to experience symptoms before age 25 so it is key that college students be aware of bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:

Depressive Episodes

  • See above

Manic Episodes

  • Racing thoughts
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased energy/restlessness/ irritability
  • Rapid speech, pressure to keep talking
  • Euphoria
  • Grandiose beliefs about self
  • Reckless or impulsive behavior
  • Poor judgment
  • Substance abuse
  • Paranoia or delusional beliefs
  • Suicidal ideation

Most scientists agree that there is not one specific cause for bipolar disorder but rather a combination of genetic vulnerability, neurotransmitter imbalance and stressful life events. It is thought that if an individual is genetically predisposed to developing the disorder then stressful events may act as a catalyst for the development of symptoms.

Thorough evaluation is vital to effective treatment of bipolar disorder. Because the individual can have varying degrees of manic, depressive or mixed (combination of manic and depressive symptoms concurrently) symptoms it is necessary to identify appropriate medication to target the individual’s specific symptoms. Individuals are routinely treated with mood stabilizers, antidepressants and newer atypical antipsychotic medications. Because of the impact on functioning and relationships it is also beneficial to have psychotherapy focused on recognizing onset of increased symptoms, stress management, coping with the impact on relationships and daily life. Supportive family, friends, school and work environments can be an important component of the most effective treatment outcomes.