At any given time, 10 per cent of Canadians are suffering from a mental illness and 18 per cent of people aged 15-24 have reported some sort of mental illness. Even with such a high number of people suffering from these disorders, stigmatization remains around the mentally ill in our society.
A person’s mood is affected by three neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Reduced or abnormal functioning of these chemicals in the brain causes a person to feel unhappy, unmotivated or lethargic. Depression is the number one mental illness in Canada, with one in five Canadian adults experiencing it at some point in their lives.
People under the age of 20 years are the most likely to experience depression symptoms while suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths in the 15 to 24 year age group. With such staggering statistics before them, it’s very important for young people to understand the implications of mental illnesses and the importance of taking care of mental health.
What can students do to recognize depression and know when to seek treatment?
Know the symptoms: There are several types of depression and many people may not even know that they’re depressed. Though depression is normally characterized by sadness and a depressed mood, it’s possible to be clinically depressed without feeling blue.
According to Freeman Woolnough, a counsellor at UNBSJ, in order for a person to be diagnosed with depression, he or she must experience profound sadness or a lack of motivation, plus four other symptoms of major depression, including changes in appetite, sleep and sex as well as feelings of guilt and hopelessness. These symptoms must persist over a two week period.
Depression can also present with symptoms such as trouble concentrating, fatigue, personality changes and agitation.
“Depression doesn’t mean suicide and suicide does not always mean depression,” says Woolnough. There is a link, however. Woolnough says that it’s important to notice changes in a person’s moods and mannerisms, whether positive or negative.
“Suicide is rare but it does happen,” says Woolnough, “it’s a very intimate decision for a person to make.” Suicide is very unique to each person and there are no clear cut warning signs. However, Woolnough advises that if sudden changes are noticed, it is important to open up an opportunity for them to talk about it and to refer them to professionals who have the skills to help them.
The university, as well as the community at large offer many resources for students who feel that they may suffer from depression. Some student may need to be treated with anti-depressant medication, which they can receive from a doctor or some nurse practitioners. However, “Medication is never the only answer, and it’s not meant to be a lifelong treatment,” says Woolnough.
Woolnough suggests seeking help in the form of therapy.
There are three counsellors on campus available free of charge to students, there are also organizations in the city such as Family Plus and Gentle Path Counselling available to the general public. Students may also want to talk to a professional about their sleep and eating habits, both of which can impact mental health. For residence students, the resident advisors (RA) have some training in mental illness and may be able to help.
Woolnough says the fact that counsellors are treating more and more people for depression is evidence that stigmas surrounding mental health are starting to disappear. However, he notes that in Saint John in particular, there is the mentality that a person cannot be separated from their disease.
“Unfortunately, mental illness is seen as the person, not the illness,” says Woolnough. He advises society to avoid shying away from discussion about mental health. “Family and friends are great resources for dealing with depression,” he says, “It personalizes and de-clinicalizes [the disorder].” Talking about mental health de-stigmatizes getting help, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of the counsellors on campus or talk with your doctor if you think you are suffering from depression.