Depression often goes undetected. And, when it does, grave consequences can ensue.
In January, a male UT student was found dead on campus from what is believed to be suicide. Although UT has released no official statement on the incident, the death was confirmed by an employee of the counseling center, a resident assistant and a campus minister.
The subsequent news of suicide by University of Pennsylvania freshman spurred questions about the psychological toll of the freshman experience.
Olivia Gross, sophomore in social work, said her freshman year was filled with "hard" struggles relating to a long-distance relationship. Although her experiences were tied personal issues, Gross held that isolation among freshmen is a widespread and insidious problem.
"I think that a lot of freshmen struggle with loneliness," Gross said, "and I think what makes it even worse is that nobody lets on that they're lonely, and they think that everyone else is having fun and they're the only one that's not, when in reality, a lot of people are sitting in their dorm room by themselves watching Netflix."
While each psychologist views clinical depression differently, Dr. Sarah Park, coordinator of the Stress Management Clinic at UT's Student Counseling Center, suggested a link between this diagnosis and what she termed a "needing disorder." In other words, depression arises when a person loses connection with the knowledge of what makes them happy or unhappy.
"If you think about it, when you stop sort of tuning in to what you want and what you need, then you don't know how to do things that make you feel good," Park said. "I think that can be a big cause of depression is that disconnection from what you need and what you want."
Park explained that while depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by any number of experiences, the college transition in particular thrusts young adults into an unfamiliar environment.
Such immediate freedom can lead to mental distress.
"I think a lot of times — not always — but home provided some sort of structure," Park said. "Here all of the sudden nobody's there to wake you up when you have an eight o'clock class. Nobody is there to stand over you and say, 'No you have to finish this assignment.'
"College is a place where people are often figuring out who they are, and I think that can be a really painful process sometimes."
A resident assistant in Morrill Hall stated housing employees are instructed to pay attention to mood changes following winter break, as seasonal depression grips many students during this time.
Sammy Alayli, an R.A. in North Carrick Hall and sophomore in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, expressed his belief that this gloom could be associated with the confined space of the college dorm room, with cold weather keeping many students indoors.
"Sleeping where you work and where you play and when you do everything in one room makes a huge difference," Alayli said. "I found myself always wanting to leave my room and be somewhere else, just because I can't stand being in one room for too long."
Catherine Hester, female staff of Reformed University Fellowship, affirmed Alayli's claims, saying the weather can largely impact emotions.
"It's also that time in between: it's not the excitement of just starting, and it's not the light at the end of the tunnel," Hester said, "and so things can seem to be a little bit bogged down."
Seemingly radical, Park regards thoughts of suicide as an ordinary response to distress.
"I think suicidal thoughts are pretty common," Park said. "I think it's a pretty human thing to think, 'Hey this is pretty painful, I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up again.'"
Yet, Park encouraged students in distress to seek counseling, as this service can often aid in coping with depression and anxiety, regardless of perceived severity.
"I think the counseling center, if they're involved here it's one time a week that they at least have to come and see someone and check in," Park said. "There's something about that, that another human is there."