Depression is Common among College Students

It’s common for college students to feel depressed. Now, when I say depression, I mean anything from just feeling down to feeling so depressed you can’t get out of bed. It’s important to know that feeling sad is a part of life. Feeling significant depression doesn’t have to be, however. Everyone gets down from time to time, but depression is different (Related Article: What Is The Difference Between Sadness And Depression). So, if you are feeling down, know that others feel that way too. They might be able to help you if you reach out.

Depression Versus Sadness

What’s the difference between the two? Well, one of the differences is that sadness can be situational. If you just broke up with your girlfriend, you might feel sad. It might last for a few days or weeks. However, if that sadness turns into depression, you might find it lasting longer and stopping you from functioning in life. Depression seems to be a deeper feeling and can be longer lasting (Related Article: What Is Depression?). It might also show up when there doesn’t seem to be a reason to feel it. Sometimes it’s the weather and time of year that causes you to feel depressed (Related Article: Seasonal Affective Disorder). But, wether it’s the time of year or a situation that has you feeling down, there is help. It doesn’t matter if its sadness or depression they both hurt and are uncomfortable.

Signs of Depression

There are several signs of depression (Related Article: Depression Counseling: Surprising Symptoms You May Miss). First, a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy. Second, anger and irritability. Third, lack of energy. Fourth, impulsive decisions. It’s important to know what to look for in yourself or your partner (Related Article: Supporting Your Partner Through Depression). Adjusting to college life can be difficult and with that comes discomfort. Knowing if its turning into depression can help you reach out when needed.

Get Help For Depression

One of the best things you can do when feeling down or depressed is to get help. Try talking with a partner, parent, sibling, roommate, Church leader or friend. Meeting with a trained counselor for depression has been shown to be effective as well (Related Article: Help With Depression). Whatever you do, don’t keep it to yourself. Reach out to those who love you and can help.

Written by Dr Triston Morgan, PhD, LMFT. Utah Valley Marriage and Family Therapist

What do you do when your young adult child is struggling in Utah Valley? At this point, parenting is different. You don’t have the same influence over them that you used to. They don’t seem to listen and don’t think you have all the answers anymore. Not like when they were young. It’s difficult to know what to do to help them when they continue to make bad choices. Here are two things to consider that will help you help them (Related Article: How To Help A Struggling College Student With Mental Health).

Mental Health for Young Adults

Your young adult child might be open to talking about their mental health. It might not be now, but they will eventually be open to it if they trust you. So, be trustworthy. Talk with them about all aspects of their life – whats going well, not just whats going poorly. If they think you are just trying to fix them or talk to them about what they need to do better, they won’t trust you. You can talk with them about depression and anxiety when it seems to come up. However, it’s important to also talk with theme about what they enjoy and are having fun with – or want to be doing. Make it a safe relationship with them by being genuinely interested in all aspects of their life.

Be Open About Your Struggles As Well

Be open about your struggles with mental health, relationships or work with your child as well. This normalizes you and models for them how to work through it. Some conventional approaches to parenting tell you to not show any weakness. However, open up! Share with your young adult child that sometimes you don’t want to go to work. Or, that sometimes you feel down. It can be relieving to them that you aren’t perfect. They can start to see you and what you are doing in your life differently. They might be able to connect with you better. This helps create a safe place for them to be imperfect in front of you.

Counseling for Young Adults in Utah Valley

I have been a counselor for young adults in Utah Valley for almost two decades. They need help and need someone that is courageous enough to point them in that direction. My counseling office is in Orem. You can check out my other clinic as well – The Center for Couples and Families.

Written by Dr Triston Morgan, PhD, LMFT

Anger is a secondary emotion. A secondary emotion is one that covers up what you are really feeling. For example, if you are feeling hurt because of a recent break up with a significant other, it’s easy to also feel angry. Anger, a secondary emotion, comes along and covers up that hurt, the primary emotion. This often happens because when you are breaking up with a significant other there is a part of you that is afraid of being hurt more than you already have. So instead of going to them and telling them, ‘I’m really hurt and sad that we are breaking up’, you might get angry and post something mean about them on social media, or talk badly about them to your friends. This is in an effort to protect yourself from getting hurt more than you have been. If I share my hurt with them they could hurt me even more because I am vulnerable. So, you are acting angry, but what you are really feeling is hurt. The trick is to notice when you are angry and ask yourself, ‘What am I really feeling?’. Because it’s not anger. Then you will be able to find out what is really going on, emotionally (which can be very different from what you are thinking). Knowing what you are feeling allows you to deal with the pain instead of pushing it down or aside and having it blow up later in an unhealthy manner. Pick up the hurt and feel it. Then you will be able to do something with it that is healthy.

Transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood is difficult. You usually don’t want to be told what to do – and most likely aren’t reading this article. But parents of young adults might be because you are struggling to help your child grow and figure out how to navigate life away from the nest. Depression, anxiety, pornography, drug use, issues with school or work and issues with significant others are among many difficulties young adults face during that transition from high school to college or from serving a Church mission to being back in college. Over the years, as a counselor in Orem, Utah, I’ve noticed a few things that parents do who successfully help their child navigate this period. First, they give them space. Your child is going to make mistakes. Giving them space to do so shows that you trust them and honor their ‘adulthood’. This doesn’t mean, however, that you run the other way and cut them off. They need a safe place to come back to, in a consultative manner. They still need you to be there so they can process what is going on. They might not come right away, but they do come eventually. Make yourself available and reach out to them. You can’t force them to share, but you can invite them. You can say to them, ‘You might not want to talk, but just know that I am here for you and I care about you. I’m happy to listen if you want to share’. Second, they create emotional safety. When your child does share with you, you want to ‘hold emotional space’ for them by accepting, validating and reflecting what they are saying rather than telling them what to do. You might not agree with what they are doing or saying, but telling them they are wrong and then telling them what to do will close the door of them sharing at all. You want to help them figure things out rather than force them to think the way you do. You can, for example, validate the emotions they feel rather than the actions they are doing. Saying, ‘I can see that breaking up has really been painful for you’, rather than, ‘Stopping going to church just because you broke up isn’t going to help. You just need to keep going’ can be helpful. You might not agree with their choices/actions, but you can certainly empathize and understand their emotions (that then led to certain actions).

Anxiety is a problem most of us face at some point or another. It isn’t a question of ‘if’ we will experience it, but ‘when’. Anxiety comes in many forms. It can be difficult to cope with when it is severe and difficult to detect when it is mild. There is a situation when anxiety is actually covering up, and is a reaction to, other emotions. Let’s talk about how and when that is the case. There are primary emotions and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are our natural emotions to a situation. For example, feeling sad when you get a divorce is a primary emotion. In this example, you might also feel other emotions such as hurt, fear, confusion, betrayal, desperation, abandonment, despair, hopelessness, overwhelmed, etc. When these other emotions, in addition to feeling sad, become too much, a secondary emotion can come in to take the role of blanketing them so that you distance yourself or numb yourself from them. It covers them up so that you don’t see them and seemingly don’t have to deal with them. Anger is a good example of a secondary emotion. Anxiety, at times, can be, but isn’t necessarily always, a secondary emotion as well. When you are feeling all of those things, anxiety can come and make you buzz so you don’t feel them. In this case, it is secondary to what is actually going on. The trick, then, is to ask yourself, ‘what am I really feeling’ and recognize, feel and cope with your primary emotions. Dealing with anxiety alone won’t be enough as it isn’t the root of what is going on.

Pornography is often mistaken as a ‘sex addiction’. Some have said to me that, ‘If me and my wife just had sex more, pornography wouldn’t be an issue’. This is a myth and false. It has less to do with frequency of intercourse and more to do with the emotions behind so many things. Pornography temporarily numbs someone from feeling uncomfortable emotions. It keeps them from feeling what is really going on in their life. It helps them avoid. For example, feeling rejected, alone and unseen is uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to feel these types of emotion’s so they try to avoid them. They might recognize that those emotions are present, but their main goal then becomes to get rid of them without first picking them up and experiencing them. The only way to do this is to numb yourself. You can’t move something that you first don’t have. You have to pick up the emotion if you are going to do something with it. That act is counterintuitive and difficult. Pornography is one way that people avoid feeling what is right there in their lives. It numbs them from feeling rejected, alone or unseen. But those emotions don’t go away, however. They get buried and still influence us. Learning to feel uncomfortable emotions and increasing your emotional capacity is part of the solution to addiction to pornography. Simply stopping using pornography isn’t enough to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Moving pornography out of the way only serves as a move towards creating more space to feel your emotions and therefore increase your emotional capacity.

Sometimes the holidays hurt. When we have lost loved ones or when we are reminded of what we used to have, the holidays can turn from joyous to painful. During these times, it’s important to remember a few things. First, let the pain come in – embrace it. There is no need to try and hide from it or run. If we try to hide from it or ignore it, we often develop addictions to cover what we are feeling – ways to numb ourselves from uncomfortable emotions. In this numbed state, we don’t ever get to embrace and subsequently let go of painful emotions. It’s important to remember that in order to let go of something, we first have to have it (embrace it). Remember that these emotions come and go, they won’t stay with us forever. Second, find a way to honor your loved ones who have gone on or circumstances lost. I spoke with a friend once who had dealt with the loss of a job and a more abundant life. During times when this was more apparent, he was able to be grateful for the relationship he had and focus on enjoying them above all else. After having material possessions and different opportunities pass him by he realized what is most important as he put his life back together. As he did this, he was able to be grateful for past opportunities and current blessings. Third, some find comfort in having what I call ‘Present Mindedness’ – the ability to be in the moment. We let ourselves enjoy the here and now without stopping ourselves because we need to maintain anger or sadness from the past or from other current situations. We don’t have to punish ourselves – we deserve to be happy now.

I am often asked the question, “Do I need medication?” As a counselor in Utah County, I work with couples, families, individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, pornography use, drug and alcohol use and other issues – all of which might need medication at some point. As a counselor, I am not trained to prescribe medication or do medication management, however, I often collaborate with practioners (i.e., MD’s, nurse practioners) who are. Together we are able to help many individuals overcome anxiety or depression. Talk therapy (couples counseling or individual therapy) and medication are often a good combination to combat the issues that bring most people into therapy.

My colleagues who prescribe medications often tell me how medications act like crutches. They aren’t meant for long term use or to be a ‘fix-all’, but rather, they are meant to give support so that an individual can gain strength. Once strong enough, the crutches are discarded and the individual moves on under their own power.

So, when clients ask if medication is warranted, I refer them to someone trained in this type of treatment. Medication is not always the answer, but there are times when it is best practice, however, to use medication and traditional talk therapy together (i.e., Bipolar disorder treatment). I refer them to see an MD, psychiatrist or nurse practioner. I encourage them to meet with someone who does Genetic testing for medications. This is a method where an individual submits a DNA sample which is sent to a lab for testing. The results show the individual and prescribing professional which meds are most likely to work with the individuals genetic structure (usually for anxiety or depression medications). My nurse practitioner colleague tells me that this ‘takes the guess work out of medication management’. Given that the typical experience for individuals trying medications is months of trial and error, this is a relief to many.

Pornography use often leaves the user feeling empty and shameful. To deal with this shame of using in the first place, they might actually use pornography again to numb themselves. This vicious cycle is played out within minutes of each other or within days, even weeks of each other.

 

I am often asked by spouses of pornography users one simple and somewhat complex question, “Why can’t they just stop using?” They tell me that they know that their spouse see’s how it hurts them and how it is ruining their lives and relationships. After a husband talks about his remorse about using pornography, a wife will often follow up with, “Then just stop it”. It isn’t this simple, however. Studies have shown the impact that pornography use has on an individual’s brain chemistry. Some would say that the brain and the person become hijacked – causing them to act in ways that they wouldn’t normally act. This is the same phenomenon that would cause a grandson to steal his grandmothers wedding ring to sell for drugs. You are not yourself, seemingly. The cycle of pornography use doesn’t make sense to those who are in it and doesn’t make sense to their loved ones.

 

Fight the New Drug is an organization who educates the public on the harmful effects of pornography. You will find a lot of good resources to understand this addiction. Strangely enough, it is somewhat a controversial addition. It is not included in the DSM-V (the big book of mental health disorders decided on by experts throughout the country). Educate yourself so that you can make a little more sense of it. A good counselor will also be able to help you understand the nature of this addiction as they work with you and your loved one. As a therapist in Provo Utah, I often see clients in these situations. I have several colleagues at the Center for Couples and Families that are experts in this area of treatment as well.

Happy couple laughingAll of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures. – Dr. John Bowlby

Have we really cracked the code on love and romantic bonding? Perhaps. Scientists, poets, and lovers have long grappled with the question: “What makes romantic love work?” Through the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy, it looks like we have an answer.

Through decades of research on the importance of emotional bonding and what it is like to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone, relationship researchers are starting to unravel the mystery of love and adult romantic bonding and how to mend loving ties. The truth is, we are all hard-wired to connect to one another. This drive to connect is infinitely stronger in family and romantic relationships. To be emotionally isolated is harsh on our brains. Loving connections offer us a safe haven to go to where we can maintain our emotional balance, deal with stress, and respond more lovingly to our romantic partners. Essentially, when those connections are secure and strong, love is safe; love flourishes.

Unfortunately, disconnections between couples do happen and frustration, sadness, and anger are all too common in marital relationships. When those secure and loving bonds are threatened, emotional “primal panic” and a cycle of negative interactions ensues. These wounds can be difficult to repair for couples when left to their own abilities, and therapy is often the last step before looking to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many well-meaning therapists utilize their individual-based, time-tested techniques and attempt to apply them to relational interactions, which usually has little effect in restoring their loving bonds. In addition, many therapeutic techniques focus on helping partners change behaviors or thoughts, or teaching them communication skills. The common result from these approaches and techniques is that they usually struggle to gain traction, and the couple leaves therapy with less hope than before.

But there is hope. Within the last 25 years, a substantial amount of research has emerged that gives hope to couples on the brink and helps them tune in to their underlying emotions, identify their negative patterns of interaction, repair their attachment, and eventually create new patterns of bonding and positive interactions. This model is Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Grounded in the theory of attachment, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experiential, short term, structured, and tested model of therapy designed to help couples identify their negative communication patterns, interrupt this pattern, and create more positive, bonding, and secure emotional patterns. EFT does not see individuals as “sick” or unskilled, but rather “stuck in habitual ways of dealing with emotions with others in key moments.” As the title reflects, priority is given to emotion as a key organizer of inner experiences. EFT looks within the emotional experience of the couples and how they navigate their emotional connectedness. Dr. Sue Johnson has said, “The EFT therapist has a map. A map to relationships and how they work. A map to how they go wrong. And map to what is needed to put them right.”

A substantial body of research has shown promising results of the effectiveness of EFT. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics, and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

In my work with couples, EFT has resonated with them on many levels. No longer are couples focused on fights and long-standing disagreements about specific content or trying to change the other person. When couples go through the process of EFT, perpetual problems are framed as negative disconnections that are about protests by each partner for a more loving connection and emotional safety. EFT takes the blame out of conflict and resentment and moves to fighting together against a common enemy—the negative pattern. As couples progress through the stages and steps of EFT and begin to accesses deeper emotions that underlie their struggle for connection, a new interaction emerges as individual partners see and experience each other differently. When partners experience each other as more accessible, responsive, and engaged, old wounds and negative patterns are healed, and love and emotional safety thrives.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Jeremy Boden

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