Depression & Anxiety
It's normal to feel sad or anxious sometimes, yet college life poses so many new challenges that it is not uncommon for students to experience more significant episodes of depression or anxiety. Roommate conflicts, academic stress, relationship problems, financial stress, and adjustment issues are just some of the things that can contribute to feeling depressed or anxious. Seeking help is a healthy response in such situations.
Often, talking with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor can bring relief or help you put things in perspective. Other times, it helps to talk with a mental health professional. CAPS offers individual and group counseling, and psychiatric services.
Some students come to Cornell having already faced depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. CAPS can also provide follow-up services and referrals for these students.
Q. What's the difference between sadness and depression?
A. Everybody gets sad at times of loss, adjustment, or disappointment. For some people the sadness will last a few days or weeks, or sometimes longer, depending on the cause. Feelings of sadness can be a sign of depression. Depression can also be expressed as apathy, or an inability to feel anything. When these symptoms begin to interfere with health, social and academic functioning, and enjoyment of life, it is probable that the individual is experiencing depression. Persistent problems with sleep, appetite, concentration, motivation, and interest in socializing are signs of depression. You may also be interested in this depression screening questionnaire.
Q. What is manic depression or bipolar disorder?
A. Bipolar disorder (also known as "manic depression") is characterized by mood swings from depression to an elevated or euphoric mood which is referred to as mania. Manic periods sometimes include impulsive behavior, excessive energy with a decreased need for sleep, irritability, and racing thoughts. The depressive phase is characterized by low mood and lack of interest in life in general. Periods of a more balanced mood usually fall between these extremes or “poles.” Bipolar disorder can be successfully treated once it is diagnosed. More information about signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is provided by the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Q. How can I help a friend who is depressed?
A. It can be very concerning when a friend or roommate shows signs of depression. It is important to know that you do not have to deal with this alone. Expressing concern for your friend, and reflecting on what you have observed (i.e., “I’ve noticed you seem really down these past few weeks”) is a good place to start. You may want to suggest that your friend call CAPS, or reach out to their family or clergy/spiritual support. If you feel that you cannot speak to your friend, you can contact CAPS and speak to a counselor about how to deal with your worry, and to brainstorm ways to deal with the situation. More information about depression is provided by the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Q. I feel so depressed at times that I'm not sure it's worth living anymore. Is this normal?
A. Depression can be characterized by feelings of hopelessness and despair. Often people have passing thoughts of giving up, or could just “going to sleep” indefinitely. If left untreated, severely depressed people may have thoughts of suicide. It is essential to keep in mind that depression distorts your perspective and makes things seem worse than they truly are. If you find yourself contemplating suicide, it is important to seek help immediately either by contacting CAPS, going to the emergency room, or empowering a trusted friend, family member or mentor to get you the help and support you need. You can find further information on what to do if you are feeling suicidal at the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Q. I'm not comfortable talking to a counselor, but I think I need help. What can I do?
A. Most people find it challenging to speak with a counselor the first time. It is natural to feel hesitant to share your personal feelings and thoughts with someone you are just getting to know. In some cultures it is more common to seek help through other means such as family, religious communities or mentors, which makes it even more challenging to reach out to a counselor. This initial discomfort usually passes with time, and many students are helped by counseling.
If you find that you are unable to go to CAPS, you may prefer to speak with a counselor during our "Let's Talk" off-site locations. CAPS can also provide referrals to mental health professionals in the Ithaca community for students who prefer to be seen off-campus.
Q. Is medication usually the best course for major depression?
A. There is no one right way to deal with any emotional difficulty. For many people a course of counseling is adequate to alleviate symptoms of depression. In other cases, a consultation with a psychiatrist to discuss treatment with anti-depressants is recommended. It is always a student’s choice whether or not to pursue treatment with medication. Consultation with a psychiatrist is a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about medications. More information about psychotherapy and medical treatment for depression is provided by the American Psychological Association.
Q. What are the different types of anxiety?
A. Anxiety is a natural response to stress. It can be a good indicator that you need to find new ways to take care of yourself. Anxiety can take many forms, such as jitteriness, a general nervous feeling, and physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or perspiration. Other symptoms of anxiety include loss of appetite, increased “emotional eating,” insomnia, social isolation, and difficulty in concentration. Sometimes anxiety is expressed through irrational fears or specific phobias (such as fear of elevators, heights, spiders, etc.). Other expressions of anxiety are uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, compulsive, ritualized behaviors, and episodes of panic.
Q. How can I cope with symptoms of anxiety?
A. Anxiety can disrupt your day to day well-being through insomnia, eating difficulties, and a reduced ability to concentrate. It is very important to maintain your self-care activities such as healthy, regular eating, taking time out to be with friends, moderate exercise, and consistent sleep. Sometimes just deciding to take a few minutes each day to sit quietly can be the start of reducing your anxiety. Stress management, meditation, and relaxation techniques can be very effective in managing symptoms of anxiety. Visit our Stress Management section.
Q. When should I seek help for anxiety?
A. Anxiety, in small doses, can be motivating. Anxiety becomes problematic when it starts to interfere with the ability to carry out daily tasks, pursue your goals, and connect with other people. If you find that anxiety is affecting your quality of life, you can seek help at CAPS.
Q. How can counseling help me with anxiety?
A. A professional counselor can help you to assess when your anxiety is interfering with your health and well-being. Counseling can be a place to talk over your stresses and help to get them into perspective. You can also learn and practice relaxation techniques. Often, counseling can help you to identify thought patterns that worsen your anxiety and generate more positive ways to think about your life. Finally, you may want to consult with a professional about whether medication may be useful in managing your symptoms. Additional information on treatment of anxiety is provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.