This is the first in a series of articles written by the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) in an effort to educate and inform UCSB students about depression on campus. For more information, go to the Student Health website at or call 893-3371 for an appointment with a health care professional.

One could argue that this year has started off on the wrong foot. The persistent rains, devastating tsunami and the pressure of another quarter can all contribute to a less-than-perky attitude. For some, the negative feelings caused by such concerns can manifest into a much more serious state of mind. Depression is a condition that afflicts a surprising number of college students and is a real concern for those who manage Student Health Services on campus. Doctors at Student Health have recognized that mental health is becoming an area of increasing concern. Dr. Cynthia Bowers, the director of Student Health, notes that during Fall Quarter, they saw an increase in the number of students seeking care for mental illness. Depression may not appear to be as prevalent as other conditions, but in actuality many students feel the effects of depression and need to know that help is out there.

To clarify, depression is a mood disorder that is caused by an imbalance of brain chemistry. Environmental factors like trauma or stress – which students are well acquainted with – can increase the likelihood that the disorder will surface. Those with a family history are even more likely to develop depression, the severity of which can range from just feeling crappy to alarmingly harsh with hallucinations and/or delusions. Furthermore, women are twice as likely to become depressed as men, but males are four times more likely to commit suicide. Males also tend to use drugs and alcohol to mask their condition instead of asking for help. The point is that depression can be a physiological condition that is aggravated by environmental factors and should not be ignored.

Some students with depression ignore the warning signs, or deny that their negative feelings constitute depression. These individuals need help recognizing that their condition demands attention. It is important to note that there are different forms of depression and that the symptoms can vary from one form to the other. It would be dangerous to self-diagnose based on comparisons with acquaintances or patients with depression. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of the disorder: Constant feelings of sadness, irritability or tension are the hallmark signs of depression. Other signs include decreased interest or pleasure in usual activities, or persistent fatigue and irregular sleeping patterns. Depression can have a profound impact on school performance because it can impede your ability to concentrate and make decisions. Those with depression may express or have feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt. In serious cases, thoughts of suicide or death begin to arise.

Any one of these signs is a reason to seek help. If negative feelings persist for more than a couple of weeks, you should see a doctor to rule out depression or to discuss treatment options. Why feel bad if you don’t have to? Remember, depression can be physiological and it can be treated. If you are in a crisis, or know someone who is, go to the emergency room, call a hotline – just don’t hesitate to ask for help. In the next article we will discuss what to expect at the doctor’s office, and what you can do to make the most out of your visit. For now, know that if you are feeling depressed, you don’t have to suffer – there is help.

Daniel Shepherd is a senior English major.