Depression and other mood disorders are a growing concern on college campuses. The Fall 2011 American College Health Association Survey of Students reported that 11.1% of students were diagnosed with depression, and 7.1% had seriously considered suicide.

Graph made by Mackenzie Carson
-Information courtesy of ACHA

Mood disorders consist of depression, including both dysthymia and major depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Dr. Larissa Ruuskanen, a counseling and psychological services counselor at The University of Mary Washington, describes a mood disorder as “anything that has a disturbance of mood.”

Major depression is the persistent feeling of sadness or helplessness, and in many cases can cause a person to lose their will to live. “I just feel helpless, like nothing I can do will make me feel completely happy,” said James Madison University sophomore psychology major Franki Castellano about the times when she feels most depressed.

Dysthymia is a less severe type of depression that is less consistent than major depression. “The depressed mood is at lower levels, but lasts most of the time so it doesn’t really improve a whole lot,” stated Ruuskanen.

Bipolar disorder is another form of depression that also involves regular attacks of mania. According to the United States Library of Medicine website, there are two types of bipolar disorder. Type 1 consists of “at least one manic episode and periods of major depression,” while people with type 2 experience hypomania, which is “periods of high energy levels and impulsiveness that are not as extreme as mania.”

Anxiety is the constant feeling of concern over something. It is also one of the most common mental illnesses that treatment is sought after for on college campuses. This is due to many common hardships faced by college students such as relationships, family, and transitioning to a new place and new responsibilities.

Dr. Larissa Ruuskanen, a psychological counselor at the University of Mary Washington
-Courtesy of Mackenzie Carson

“For freshmen coming in there’s a huge adjustment,” says Ruuskanen. About 30 percent of UMW students using CAPS each year are freshmen. “I think it’s just that they’re going through normal transitions and we’re a support system.”

Mood disorders are considered illnesses and most can be treated to a manageable state. Treatments include medication such as antidepressants and anti- anxiety pills, as well as professional counseling.

“Since counseling I still feel sad about things but it’s nice having someone on ‘your side’ that is there to care about you,” said Castellano. “I always left there feeling a million times better. And they give you techniques and stuff to help relax which helps with anxiety.”

By Mackenzie Carson