Depression common; Look for warning signs

“Cry me a river,” wails Justin Timberlake to the masses.

How about some Prozac in exchange for our tears?

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC report released in July revealed that, of the 2.4 billion prescriptions given in 2005, 118 million were for antidepressants.

When REM sings “Everybody hurts,” they’re right. About 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization.

We’ve all wanted to be sedated before. There are some days when we just don’t want to wake up. Things are going badly – whether it is school, work or our personal lives – and all we want is release.

But do our woes call for antidepressants? Regular sadness and clinical depression are not the same thing. Symptoms of depression include sad moods, loss of interest in normal activities, impaired thinking, weight loss and fatigue. In extreme cases, depression can include thoughts of suicide. These symptoms must be present in the patient for more than two weeks for a doctor to diagnose depression, according to the Mayo Clinic Web site.

Unlike general sadness, clinical depression has a chemical and biological basis and is not dependant on external factors, even though it can be triggered by stressful life events. People with clinical depression do not have control over how they feel.

But when it comes to a diagnosis, distinctions become blurry. A study released this year found prolonged depressive-like symptoms are common in those experiencing broken hearts and other major life changes.

There is no physical test to detect depression. Doctors have to rely on screening questionnaires and a diagnostic manual to assess whether a patient has depression. However, screening tests do not take into account the context in which the symptoms occur. Because of this, antidepressants might be prescribed to people who do not need them.

Antidepressants may help numb the pain,

but they also desensitize people to other feelings, including happiness. When treating depression, psychiatrists couple medication with psychotherapy for optimum results. Antidepressants are not meant to be handed out like candy.

Depression is a common problem on college campuses, where students are exposed to high levels of stress. In 2005, the American College Health Association reported that 15 percent of college students suffer from depression.

Watch out for the warning signs. Not all who suffer depression run around cutting off their left ear and making paintings that will posthumously sell for a fortune. Some people are more subtle.

Eric Wood, a licensed professional counselor at the TCU Counseling, Testing and Mental Health Center, said students who suspect they have depression should seek professional help.

Wood said many times being approached by a friend is how a student decides to look for help. He said when approaching a friend about depression, you should discuss the behaviors you are noticing instead of making judgments on why the person is feeling that way.

Students can schedule free and confidential counseling sessions by calling the TCU Counseling, Testing, and Mental Health Center at 817-257-7863. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Julieta Chiquillo is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from San Salvador, El Salvador. Her column appears Tuesdays.