Low mood affects many people. Research has shown that 78% of college students will show symptoms of depression in any given year and 46% will seek some form of professional help. The frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms are the criteria to determine whether someone is experiencing low mood or symptoms of depression.
What are the symptoms associated with low mood?
There are at least nine symptoms associated with low mood. Persistent symptoms of low mood can lead to depression, and often this is when people feel like they need to get extra support. People who are experiencing depression will have at least five of these symptoms nearly every day all day for at least two weeks. The symptoms present a change from the person's normal behaviour and ability to function. It is common for people to experience some of these symptoms or low mood without being ‘depressed’. Some of these symptoms include:
- Depressed mood (feeling sad, blue, being tearful) or sometimes irritable mood or
- Loss of interest or pleasure (feeling 'flat' or 'empty') in all or almost all activities s/he used to enjoy.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain when not dieting, or decrease or increase in appetite
- Sleep disturbance - either trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Feeling restless or slowed down
- Decreased energy or feeling tired
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think, concentrate, remember or make decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for committing suicide.
Features also include headaches and other aches/pains, digestive problems, sexual problems, anxiety and excessive worry, feeling pessimistic or hopeless.
What are the causes of low mood/depression?
No one simple factor causes depression & low mood. There usually appears to be more than one reason. They vary from person to person. These include:
- People with a family history of depression & low mood have an increased probability of having depression because of individual make-up including body chemistry or because of certain early experiences
- Distressing events and surrounding circumstances can contribute to depression & low mood. For example, if we are alone and friendless and have many other worries we may get seriously depressed whereas in happier times we can cope
- Depression & low mood are a common accompaniment to physical illness, especially those which are life-threatening like cancer or heart disease. Similarly depressive episodes appear to occur more often in individuals with a history of drug dependence and certain psychiatric conditions
- A person's deeper beliefs and assumptions can predispose him or her to depression& low mood. In effect, people's thoughts include three key elements:
- a concept of themselves as in some way worthless, failed or to blame for their own or other people's plight
- a view that the world is devoid of pleasure or gratification and that immense barriers block access to goals
- a view that the future is hopeless.
Depression & low mood in College
Among students, every case is affected by different things. Depression & low mood can occur regardless of the person's family history, background, medical history and life circumstances. The developmental issues in question involve:
- changes in the balance between the capacity for independence and availability of emotional support
- over-reliance on external standards of success at the expense of one's own ideals, abilities or health.
Fluctuations in self-esteem usually reflect difficulties in these areas. Instances of depression & low mood in college students are usually associated with recent stressful events. Most students exhibit a low mood associated with feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and anxiety. These symptoms occur within three months of a clearly definable stress - for example, poor academic achievement, the break-up of a relationship or financial problems. The event upsets the balance between autonomy and connectedness and this, in turn, may impair self-esteem. Sleep and appetite disturbances may occur but the full range of somatic symptoms of depression are absent. Although all the symptoms may not be present, the depression is severe enough to interfere with work and social activity. Treatment is a combination of cognitive counselling with a developmental approach. Recovery is relatively quick.
If I think I may have depression or low mood, where can I get help?
If you have symptoms that are getting in the way of your ability to function with your studies and your social life, ask for help. Depression can get better with care and treatment. Don’t wait for it to go away by itself or think you can manage it all on your own, and don’t ignore how you’re feeling. As a college student, you’re busy—but you need to ask for help. If you don’t ask for help, things may get worse and contribute to other health problems, while robbing you of the academic and social enjoyment and success that brought you to college in the first place.
Remember, the University of Limerick have a counselling service that provides help with all of the above symptoms. They provide a daily drop-in service (10a.m-11a.m. and 2p.m.-3p.m.), where you are free to talk with an assistant psychologist on how your mood is affecting you. After this, the assistant psychologist will create a plan tailored specifically to you in helping you move forward.
What treatment is available for depression?
There are two approaches to treatment; these can be combined or used separately.
- Counselling/psychotherapy: this involves talking about your feelings to a professional therapist who listens, understands and helps you explore the possible reasons and manage your depression.
- Antidepressant medication: this is prescribed by a doctor. When the depression is severe or of long duration, antidepressants are very effective and need to be taken for a period of four to six months. Antidepressants have some side effects that may last for a short period of time and are not addictive. Consult fully with your doctor in relation to this treatment.
What else can I do?
Besides seeing a doctor and a counselor, you can also help your mood by being patient with yourself and good to yourself. Don’t expect to get better immediately, but you will feel yourself improving gradually over time.
- Daily exercise, spending time outside in nature and in the sun, and eating healthy foods can also help you feel better.
- Get enough sleep. Try to have consistent sleep habits and avoid all-night study sessions.
- Your counselor may teach you how to be aware of your feelings and teach you relaxation techniques. Use these when you start feeling down or upset.
- Avoid using drugs and at least minimize, if not totally avoid, alcohol.
- Break up large tasks into small ones, and do what you can as you can; try not to do too many things at once.
- Try to spend time with supportive family members or friends, and take advantage of campus resources, such as student support groups. Talking with your parents, guardian, or other students who listen and care about you gives you support.
- Try to get out with friends and try fun things that help you express yourself. As you recover from depression, you may find that even if you don’t feel like going out with friends, if you push yourself to do so, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself more than you thought.
Remember that, by treating your mood, you are helping yourself succeed in college and after graduation.