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VPSA Blog: October 10, 2018

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Understanding Depression

October 10, 2018

October is National Depression Awareness Month. This month is about educating ourselves around the topic of depression in all its forms, from mild to severe. Starting with our Howard University community, we want to increase the knowledge base around what depression could look like and what we can do about it to help those that need additional support.

What is “Major Depression”?

In its milder form, depression, sadness, or “the blues” is a feeling that is recognized by everyone and falls within the range of healthy human emotions. In its more severe forms, depression is a debilitating illness, impacting a person’s ability to complete daily activities or to function effectively otherwise. It can impact one’s sleep, focus and concentration, appetite, mood, feelings about oneself, and feelings about the world in general. In addition to extended periods of sadness, symptoms of major depression may include cognitive impairment, physical pain, and thoughts of suicide. Many of these symptoms can be managed or alleviated with common treatments of therapy and medication.

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Major Depressive Disorder on Campus

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States.” How common? According to a 2016 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode”, which is 6.7% of adults in the United States. The largest age group of adults that experienced a major depressive episode was among those aged 18-25, the age group to which most undergraduate college students belong. Depression can be an isolating experience, but know that you are far from being alone.


Chart showing rates of depression among a series of demographics.
Click image to enlarge chart showing rates of depression among a series of demographics.


Between 2009 and 2015, “the number of [college] students treated by counseling centers grew at more than five times the rate of institutional enrollment and the number of attended appointments grew at more than seven times the pace of institutional enrollment,” the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) at Pennsylvania State University annual report tells us. In its 2017 annual report, CCMH reported that depression and anxiety are the most common concerns addressed in treatment and are the only concerns to have grown over the past two years. Other areas of distress (i.e. substance misuse, academic problems, and eating concerns) showed steady or decreased rates of occurrence.

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Seeking Treatment

If you find yourself struggling while trying to do the same things you’ve always done, it may be time to try something new. It may be uncomfortable, but growth usually is, and the possibility of what’s on the other side is of the emotional struggle is worth the risk.

Some students may choose not to seek treatment because they doubt the seriousness of their situation, but do not let that stop you. If you have any concerns about your mental health for ANY reason, there’s no harm in seeing a mental health professional. You can even do a brief, anonymous, online screening to help you decide.

Others may not seek treatment because they have difficulty letting go of the stigma around mental health conditions. Stigma causes some people to feel ashamed about needing treatment. Getting treatment does not mean you’re “weak” or “crazy”; it means you’re taking care of yourself. Getting treatment is self-care. There is no shame in speaking to a mental health professional who will keep your concerns private. One of the healthiest things you can do is to recognize that it is okay to ask for help.

Remember: you matter.



What do you do to take care of your mental health? Let us know!



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Our Mission

The Division Student Affairs supports the mission of the University by providing student-centered, high quality programs that promote an appreciation of diversity and foster a strong university community.


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Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
2400 Sixth Street, Suite 201
Washington, DC 20059

Telephone: 202-806-2100 
Fax: 202-806-9302