We all go through ups and downs in our mood. Sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, setbacks, and disappointments. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but clinical depression is much more than just sadness. Depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs a person’s day-to-day life, interfering with the ability to study, work, eat, sleep, and have fun. The feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting, with little, if any, relief. Some depressed students experience agitation, anxiety, and intense anger; some have recurrent thoughts of destruction and are preoccupied with death; and some desire to escape the pain through suicide. A depressed student may begin to show inconsistent class attendance or stop going out with friends or roommates. Fortunately, depression responds to treatment, so connecting students to services is important.
Many students will experience reactive or situational depression at some point in their academic careers. It is a natural emotional and a physical response to the academic demands and challenges as well as life’s ups and downs. Depression is considered more severe when it interferes with the student’s ability to function in school, in social environments, or at work. Without treatment, depression can last weeks, months, or years.
When you observe a depressed student:
- When possible, see the student in private.
- Mention that you have noticed that she/he appears to be feeling down and you would like to help. Encourage the student to discuss how she/he is feeling.
- Listen to the information the student is sharing.
- Be supportive and express your concern about the situation.
- Be direct and concise about an action plan.
- Initiate the action plan, such as having the student call from your office for a counseling appointment.
- Ask if the student has any thought of suicide. For example, “Have you had thoughts
of harming yourself?” Don’t ignore remarks about suicide. If the student shares thoughts
- accompany the student to Counseling Services (Administration Building, room 301), if possible.
- call 911 if the student is in immediate danger.
- when it is after hours and the student is not in immediate danger, encourage the student to talk with a Dial Help counselor by phone, 800-562-7622.
- Seek consultation even if the student is not willing to go to counseling. Call Counseling Services at 906-487-2538.
- Ignore the student.
- Minimize the situation—for example, by saying, “Everything will be better tomorrow.”
- Argue with the student or chastise her/him for poor or incomplete work.
- Provide too much information for the student to process and retain.
- Expect the student to stop feeling depressed without some form of intervention.
- Be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal if you think she/he may be.
This page was adapted with permission from material developed by the University of California, Santa Barbara.