Depression and Anxiety
Students can experience significant episodes of depression or anxiety on occasion. Roommate conflicts, academic stress, relationship tension, financial stress, and adjustment issues are just some of the things that can contribute to feeling depressed or anxious. College can sometimes be challenging, and as Emma Court writes in the Cornell Daily Sun, "It's Ok to Not Be Ok" upon occasion.
When you are depressed, the illness "lies to you." It tells you that this is how you will always feel; that this is how your life will always be. Fortunately, it's possible to fight depression. There are lots of resources at Cornell that can help.
Depression is not everything that you are. It is not your "true self." If you look closely inside yourself; you will see the part of you that wants to be happy. That is your true self. Please give your true self another chance. It's the smart and strong choice to reach for help.
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. Gannett's Department of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers individual and group counseling, psychiatric services, and drop-in hours at various campus locations. 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.
- What's the difference between sadness and depression?
- What is manic depression or bipolar disorder?
- How can I help a friend who is depressed?
- I feel so depressed at times that I'm not sure it's worth living anymore. Is this normal?
- I'm not comfortable talking to a counselor, but I think I need help. What can I do?
- Is medication usually the best course for major 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. Take a look at this depression screening questionnaire.
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 Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Institute of Health.
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 Counseling & Psychological Services (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. Review the information about expressing concern for others on this web site. More information about depression is provided by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
A. Depression can be characterized by feelings of hopelessness and despair. Sometimes people have passing thoughts of giving up, or could just “go 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, seek help immediately either by contacting Counseling and Psychological Services CAPS, going to the emergency room (emergency contacts link), 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.
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 Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), you may prefer to speak with a counselor during walk-in hours at 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.
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.
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. 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.
The American Psychological Association and Anxiety Disorders Association of America great information about different types of anxiety. Consider also reviewing the resources for college students provided by anxiety.org.
A. Anxiety can disrupt your day to day well-being through insomnia, eating difficulties, and a reduced ability to concentrate. It is 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.
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, students can seek help at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Faculty and staff: contact the Faculty Staff Assistance Program for assistance and/or referral to a local mental health provider.
A. A professional counselor can help you assess when your anxiety is interfering with your health and well-being. You will have a place to talk over your stresses and put them in perspective. Counseling can help you identify thought patterns that worsen your anxiety and generate more positive ways to think about your life. You can learn and practice relaxation techniques. 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.
Concerned you may have a problem?
- Consider taking one or more of our on-line self-assessments to learn more about these conditions.
- Cornell students can consult with Counseling and Psychological Services at Gannett.
- Cornell faculty and staff can consult with the Faculty Staff Assistance Program.
Concerned about a friend?
This Huffington Post article "Dealing With Depression: From the Friend's Perspective," (4/14/16) provides some good advice. Also visit our Notice & Respond page on the role of peers.