Campus, local event address depression & suicide

For Western Kentucky University and college campuses in general, Dr. Laves said, “About 20-25 percent of students will have a significant period of time where they are depressed or become depressed.” Photo illustration (Michael Noble Jr./HERALD)

Samantha Wright

Depression is common on college campuses, including at WKU. 

In 2011, The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment, a nationwide survey of college students at two-year and four-year institutions, conducted a survey relating to depression. The survey’s findings revealed that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time within the past year. 

Karl Laves, the associate director of the Counseling and Testing Center, said feeling depressed is one of the main reasons students come to the center.

“It has been and continues to be one of the top two reasons students come to our center,” Laves said.

He also said there are several reasons depression is such a large attractor.

“College is overwhelming for some students. Some students come to college already depressed, and there are non-academic events that lead to depression,” he said.

Laves said 20 percent of college students might experience something that is more than the normal “funk period.” 

“I would expect any college student to have some of these down periods,” he said. “But to be considered depressed, they have to have a certain number of the symptoms, and they have to be visible for two weeks or more.” 

Laves said the Counseling and Testing Center usually will see an influx of students in the weeks before exams, but this is not necessarily because of the upcoming tests.

“We typically will see a spike or increase in students making appointments two weeks before finals or a week before midterms, but it seems more like they’ve been putting it off, waiting until it hits the fan and until it all comes crashing down,” he said.

Elizabeth Jones, associate professor of school psychology, said depression is very common. 

“It’s known as the ‘common cold’ of mental health disorders,” she said.

College freshmen are especially likely to begin exhibiting symptoms of depression because of the upheavals that are occurring in their life.

“[College is] just a major stressful event, a huge change in lifestyle and support systems,” Jones said.

She added that some student’s way of thinking may predispose them towards feelings of depression, particularly in regards to social media. 

“Someone’s cognitive processing style may create distortions in thinking and make them come down on themselves,” Jones said. “It depends on how the person perceives or interprets what’s there.”

 There are several different factors that can affect whether someone develops depression. These include genetic, environmental and psychological influences. Jones said all these factors work together.

“There’s a theory about depression: that there’s a threshold, and if you have genetic propensities but there are no stressors, you may never exhibit clinical depression,” she said. “The impact on your physical well-being and the amount of stress affects whether it puts you over that threshold.”

There are many ways someone can help allay negative feelings and thoughts. Concerts, social events and campus activities, such as those hosted by the Campus Activity Board or even the Drum Circle, are very helpful. 

Laves stressed recreation as especially advantageous. 

“You definitely have to have a recreational plan,” he said “Daily recreation that elevates heart rate is very effective in preventing a low mood.”

Another important preventative, he said, is good nutrition. Working hard, playing hard and eating right are all very powerful ways of boosting someone’s mood. It is also important to enjoy all things in moderation, he said.  

Whether someone’s poor mood lasts a few days or several weeks, there are several ways a student can receive help; the largest is the Counseling and Testing Center. Depressive feelings and depression are both common and entirely treatable.

Depression is often linked to suicide. Thursday, Sept. 10, was National Suicide Prevention Day. On Saturday, Sept. 12, a Walk to Fight Suicide: Out of the Darkness Community Walks was held to help raise awareness about suicide and remember those who have died by suicide. 

The organizer for Bowling Green’s walk was Katelyn Simpson, who lost her brother to suicide around 10 years ago. After she attended an Out of the Darkness Community Walk five years ago in Louisville, Simpson was inspired to start one here. 

Simpson said she wanted people in Bowling Green to have a place to be able to express their feelings about suicide. 

“I just realized that there was a huge need to start a walk here in Warren County,” she said. “I just felt people needed a place here to come.”

Laura Bailey, one of the coordinators, said the walk is trying to normalize talk about suicide.

“We’re trying to remove the taboo and stigma and the secretive nature of suicide,” Bailey said. “It’s okay for you to reach out.”

There were around 103 walk-up registrations for the walk and around 175 people in total. The money raised, which was over $10,000, went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

There were pictures, mementos and even two large quilts with pictures of people being remembered, some of whom were former WKU students.

Simpson said ultimately those fighting are their own best hope. 

“You’re in charge of your life,” she said. “You’ve struggled but you’re still here.”