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World Health Day: Campus Experts Talk About Depression

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Fifty years ago depression wasn’t talked about publicly, says Nancy Panza, a Cal State Fullerton associate professor of psychology who teaches students about the symptoms of depression in her Advanced Psychopathology class.

“I think we have come a long way in terms of stigma,” she said. “There’s been a lot of education and public service to bring this issue to light.”

One of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, “Depression: Let’s Talk” is the theme of this year’s World Health Day on April 7. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

“Depression is something a large number of people are going to experience at some point in their life,” said Panza. “Studying it goes far in terms of being able to identify when you or someone you care about might be experiencing a depression.”

Students in Panza’s class learn how to diagnose depression by referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5). According to the manual, there are nine symptoms associated with a major depressive episode: a depressed mood, diminished interest or pleasure in activities, significant weight changes, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, excessive or inappropriate feelings of worthlessness or guilt, inability to concentrate, and suicidal thoughts.

“For major depression, you need to recognize at least five of the nine symptoms that have been present for at least two weeks or more,” said Panza. “You also want to rule out any other explanations for the symptoms, like a medical disorder or effects of a substance.”

The good news, according to Panza, is that there are proven treatments for depression.

“Research shows that both medication and psychotherapy are effective treatments, and when used in conjunction with each other, can be the fastest track to getting back to functioning,” she said.

According to data from the 2014 Health Minds Survey, an independent study of mental health issues in college student populations, the top two reasons students visit CSUF’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are depression and anxiety.

“In the last five years, there’s been a large influx of students who are very pro-mental health and part of that is because of the education that has happened on this campus,” said Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, director of CAPS. “Students seem to be aware of the importance of mental health services and are more open to accessing services.”

CAPS offers psychological assessments, counseling services, crisis interventions and more. The center recently created a Wellness Workshop series focusing on stress, mood and thought to provide additional support for students.

“We’re trying to get out to the campus and meet students where they are,” said Gutierrez-Lopez. “Students who go to these workshops report that they are gaining tools they need to help monitor their thoughts and cope with stress.”

Christine Scher, a professor of psychology who teaches Abnormal Psychology and Psychotherapy Techniques, believes that social media and the internet have played a significant role in both the de-stigmatization of depression and the rapid spreading of misinformation.

“There’s a lot of good information and a lot of bad information out there, and it’s sometimes hard to suss out what’s accurate,” said Scher. “I often remind students to use resources that are reliable, to take advantage of campus resources, such as CAPS, and to seek out evidence-based treatment.”