Workshop helps lead the fight against depression

ntal Illness (SESAMI), a prospective chapter of Active Minds at the College, offered students a workshop on depression on Wednesday, Nov. 28.

“Active Minds is the nation’s only peer-to-peer organization dedicated to mental health awareness among college students. The organization serves as the young adult voice in mental health advocacy on over 80 college campuses nationwide,” according to its Web site. The 15 SESAMI students are awaiting approval from the Student Government Association to become a club.

The workshop offered statistics regarding depression and its common signs and symptoms, and skits on how to help friends who may be suffering from depression. Audience members seemed surprised that an overwhelming 20 percent of the population suffers from mental illness. A statistic that hit closer to home: 40 percent of all undergraduate suicides are committed by freshmen.

SESAMI revealed that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Each year, 26.2 million Americans 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Despite the fact that such a large portion of society suffers from mental ailments, the majority of individuals suffering from depression go undiagnosed and untreated.

“Close your eyes for me for a second,” Alexandria Prontnicki, freshman psychology major, said. She proceeded to ask the audience to raise their hand if they knew someone with depression. When she told the audience to open their eyes, they looked out into a room full of raised hands. Not one person had kept their hand down. Again she asked the audience to close their eyes. Prontnicki instructed them to raise their hands if they knew someone who committed or attempted suicide. When she had them open their eyes, only a few remained without raised hands.

“You are not alone,” she said.

Mary Goldschmidt, professor of English and the SESAMI students’ First Year Seminar course “Listening to Depression,” took the stage to give a firsthand account of her battle with depression. She traced her depression far back into her childhood, to the time after her sister died from an illness when she was 15. Goldschmidt referred to herself as a “highly functional depressive.” She was a good student and appeared normal to those surrounding her.

Still, she battled with severe depression and faced the battle alone for the greater part of her life. According to Goldschmidt, depression feels like you are constantly in the “bottom of an elevator shaft with no way out.”

Finally, when Goldschmidt and her husband divorced, she was able to reach out and seek help for her problems. She started to go to counseling, attend therapy sessions and take anti-depressants. Goldschmidt said taking these steps to combat her depression made her feel as if she had “finally came up from underneath the water and could breathe again.”

Although it took her many years to get well, Goldschmidt is now healthy and happy.

“We were so thankful to have Dr. Goldschmidt talk at our presentation. It gave our audience a sense of how depression affects real life people,” Megan Garlette, freshman psychology major, said. Garlette hosted the workshop and acted in the group skits.

The workshop also included three skits, which helped the audience to see signs and symptoms of depression in friends and gave them to tools to initiate a conversation with them and help them to seek medical aid. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of depression include sadness, insomnia, decreased appetite, inability to experience pleasure, irritability, social withdrawal, hopelessness, poor self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.