Students shared their experience with depression Tuesday at the Lighthouse Mental Awareness Club’s latest installment of its Behind the Stigma series.
Associate Professor of Psychology Kari McArthur stressed that overcoming the stigma attached to depression is crucial to treatment and avoiding negative long-term health problems. Some students avoid dealing with depression in college because they think their feelings are normal, they aren’t aware of resources available to them, or they think they will be judged for seeking help, she said.
McArthur said 30 percent of college students suffer from depression, making it the most common health problem among students. Although everyone is different, she said, the best results in cases of depression stem from early diagnosis and a mixture of medication and psychological help.
After McArthur spoke, juniors Sarah Borger and Sarah Casebeer shared their stories of living with clinical depression.
Casebeer began experiencing symptoms of depression in high school.
“I’ve been struggling with depression for six years,” she said. “Back in high school, I didn’t think I was the stereotypical depressed person. I just lost interest in everything.”
Casebeer dedicated herself to dancing. After school, she would spend six to seven hours a day at practice.
“I was pushing myself too hard,” Casebeer said. “I wasn’t physically capable, and I wasn’t mentally capable to handle it.”
By her junior year of high school, Casebeer suffered from arthritis and joint damage. Her senior year, she broke both of her feet, because her bones were too weak to support her active lifestyle. The setback only made her depression worse, because she wasn’t able to distract her mind, she said. Casebeer said she resorted to coping with pain through abuse by hitting and cutting herself.
The height of Casebeer’s depression came the summer after her senior year. Every day as she was driving home from work, she would cross over a bridge and contemplate suicide.
“I told my parents they needed to drive me to work every day, because if I kept driving myself, one day I wouldn’t make it back,” Casebeer said.
Casebeer’s parents began driving her, recognizing that what their daughter was experiencing was more than “teenage angst,” she said. A month before attending college at Hillsdale, Casebeer began taking medication for her depression.
Her depression hasn’t disappeared completely, but it’s grown more and more manageable as she continues to receive the treatment she needs, she said.
“If you strive for continual improvement your depression will go from everyday, to every other day, to once a week, to once every other week, and that’s such a great feeling,” Casebeer said.
Borger’s depression struck her during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of college. The symptoms of depression and anxiety developed, as she worked for a summer youth camp.
“I started having panic attacks and depression came along side of it,” Borger said. “Just the feeling that you’re drowning and can’t do anything about it.”
Borger said she thought returning to Hillsdale, a place she enjoyed, would relieve her depression and cure her from the chronic anxiety attacks she started having.
The symptoms, however, persisted, and Borger began counseling toward the end of the semester. She began trying a variety of treatments: better sleeping patterns, dieting, yoga, and others. The panic attacks continued.
On Christmas Eve, during church service, Borger ran from the sanctuary, as she felt a panic attack coming. She made it to the bathroom, where she wept and waited for the attack to pass before she could rejoin her family.
After returning to Hillsdale in the spring of her sophomore year, Borger began medication. Like Casebeer, Borger’s depression wasn’t resolved with medication, but her ability to handle it improved.
“I think of [the medication] like training wheels,” she said. “You have to put on the training wheels, before you can figure what to do with the bike.”
The prescription helped her understand her body and how to deal with her anxiety and depression using her counselor’s treatments.
“The whole process has been horrible and terrible,” Borger said. “But it’s also been a really beautiful process, because I’ve learned more about myself.”
While she still falls into dips of anxiety, she said she knows how to combat it.
“I’ve learned to show myself a little more grace,” Borger said. “There is hope, and I’ve found a little bit of that hope, and it’s been a really beautiful thing.”