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: