Dealing with mental illness can be difficult, especially for college studetns. Learn more about how to get help in the article by communication student Jesse Rice.

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Dealing with Depression at College

November 29, 2017

This article originally appeared in LBC's online student newspaper, Focus.

You may not know it, but you know someone struggling with mental illness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five college students struggle with mental health issues such as depression. That means if you do not struggle yourself, you probably have a friend who does. But what is depression? And how can you fight it or help your friends?

What is depression?

The problem is that society uses depression interchangeably for feeling sad and for the clinical illness, said Dr. Ryan Kuehner, chair of the counseling & social work department at Lancaster Bible College. Major depression is more than simply feeling down, Kuehner clarified; it requires medical or professional psychotherapeutic treatment.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines major depression as meeting at least five of nine criteria and lasting for at least two weeks. Kuehner described the criteria as: “depressed mood, decreased ability to concentrate, motor slowness or agitation, recurrent thoughts of death, excessive or inappropriate guilt, decreased interest in wants or pleasurable activities, changes in sleeping patterns, changes in eating patterns and fatigue.”

“Having a bad day, bad week, is tough and may need support, but it’s just that: a bad day,” Kuehner said. “But, if I’ve had a rough two weeks, and I meet five of those nine [criteria] I mentioned, that is major depression.”

How do I know if I have depression?

According to Kuehner, a key test is the ability to function. Struggling from even a few criteria over an extended period of time may require professional help, he said.

Kuehner advised to ask yourself: “Is it interfering with daily life?” If the answer is yes, he advises having the self-awareness to ask someone for professional help.

Another important aspect is the ability to overcome the issue, said Thom Starr, director of LBC’s Career and Counseling Center. If a student struggles with loneliness and still feels that way after weeks of talking to others and trying to fight it, then counseling or other treatments may be necessary, Starr said.

Similarly, Starr continued, a student should consider the source of the depression. Is he depressed because he might fail a test for which he did not study? That is not necessarily depression, Starr said; that is simply reality. However, if the student has studied for the test and still feels excessively worried, he may want to find help, Starr advised.

However, not all struggling should be treated immediately with counseling, Starr said. He drew an example to physical injuries: an ankle pain may not warrant a 911 call, but ignoring consistent ankle pain is foolish.

Starr gave an example in his own life recently of being in a bad place mentally. He called a friend about his struggle, and they talked for two hours about how he would face the issue and what further steps he needed to take to address it.

“Be in relationship with others to seek out assistance to do life better,” Starr said. “Don’t suffer in silence.” Kuehner agreed by saying friends help people gain perspective on their own situation. “We’re all like that, it seems,” Kuehner said. “We have blind spots…. [Friends give] a change of perspective.”

What if my friend has depression?

If a friend shares a struggle with depression, Kuehner said, actively listen. Kuehner continued, you should thank your friend for being willing to share the struggle.

Starr agreed by saying a clarification of the person’s feelings is important. Yet, Starr added, there should also be a search for a solution, whether spiritual, social or medical. Starr pointed again to physical injuries: rehabilitation can hurt as badly the injury. However, without the effort, he said, the healing will never come.

Both Kuehner and Starr emphasized not to shame individuals who struggle with mental illness. If a friend admits to struggling, Kuehner suggested sharing times when God has brought you through a difficult time. Starr pointed to people throughout Scripture who suffered from low points: David, Paul and Job.

“Sometimes God said, ‘okay, I’ll make it better.’ Sometimes he said, ‘Yup, you need to work through that,’” Starr said. Fortunately for students at Lancaster Bible College, C3, the college's Career & Counseling Center, offers free counseling services to its students.

“Even strong Christians can get depressed,” Kuehner said. “Even if we are depressed, God still uses us.” As Christians, Kuehner said, students should instill hope in each other and help each other get the help they need.

Are you a LBC student looking for free counseling services?

Scheduele an appointment at C3

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Lancaster Bible College|Capital Seminary & Graduate School is an equal opportunity institution that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), ancestry, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or genetic information. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, admission to and enrollment with the College.