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Nightline holds depression forum

By Becca Munroe

Nightline sponsored a forum and discussion Monday night on depression and ways to deal with it in oneself and in others.

The student-run, peer-help service also sought feedback on its effectiveness. It operates a confidential hotline service and a drop-in center located on the bottom floor of Ashdown House. The staffers remained anonymous during the discussion.

The Nightline staff agreed that "depression is normal and healthy ... a sign of growing when it isn't drawn out."

One staffer suggested methods for relief from depression. Students should try not to compare themselves with others, he said. They should take risks by beginning friendships and joining activities. They should seek help from friends and therapists and try to identify the causes of the depression.

A second staffer agreed. He said he had to change his attitude. He cut back on studying to develop through participation in student activities.

Family conflicts can also cause depression. A member discussed the effects of parents' divorces on their college-age children. "You must decouple your problem from your reaction to it. ... You don't have the capability to force your parents to [change]. Realize you have little power over the cause, but you do have power over the effect," he emphasized.

Distance from the problem can make a person more objective. "Don't let yourself be drawn into the whirlpool your parents are in," he continued.

A fourth Nightline staffer described the depression brought on by housing and social situations. "Most people go through a lot of rejection," she said.

The first staffer commented on depression associated with the social life at MIT. The poor social life either causes or compounds people's depression, he said.

The staffer identified four aspects of MIT's social life that depress students: some students become upset because they meet people in the halls who lock themselves away to study; living groups tend to isolate people; students do not have as much time to socialize at MIT as they had in high school; and many students feel they do not share much in common with others.

Discussion at the forum cited student activities as a way to meet people and improve a poor social life. "Your social life is controlled by you completely," another staffer said.

Finding out; getting help

The last staffer on the panel mentioned the value of therapy. "When you're depressed you can't schedule, [and then you] put more pressure on yourself." She emphasized that some people have difficulty ridding themselves of depression without professional help.

Participants in the discussion agreed that long periods of depression often lead people to consider suicide. They advised not panicking when offering advice to those contemplating suicide; be supportive and be a friend.

Do not be afraid to mention suicide; mentioning it only demonstrates a caring attitude. Assess the immediate risk: If the person has a plan or has attempted it before, the risk is extremely high, they said.

Giving away possessions, changes in personality, drug use and long periods of depression are indicators of a potential suicide attempt, according to the staffers.

Health and financial problems, a loss of loved ones and the end of a relationship can all trigger depression.

Depression is a vicious cycle, the last staffer added. "When people are depressed ... [they] lose energy ... [and they] don't have energy to change things and make them better," she said.

Associate Dean for Student Affairs Linda Vaughan, Nightline's faculty advisor, said, "We clinicians feel at least 90 percent of the population go through some depression."

Other signs of depression include crying for no apparent reason, losing one's sense of humor, low self-evaluation characterized by a feeling of lack of intelligence and popularity, and pessimism, she continued.

The indicators of depression culminate in a total "rejection of the possibility of improvement," Vaughan said.

She listed the physiological symptoms of depression as loss of appetite, a decrease in libido and a change in sleeping patterns.

What can be done about depression? According to the staffers, students should try talking to friends, exercising, improving their nutrition and seeking medical help. They should become aware of their emotional state and do something they know will make them happy.

Students must realize depression has a beginning and also an end, the staffers said.