Director Erin Sullivans takes steps to end Depression for RU students

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Brandon Brinkley
bkbrinkley@radford.edu

“Jane was normally a stellar student but reported she cried daily for no reason, she didn’t want to complete her schoolwork or try to go to any of her club meetings,” said Erin Sullivan, Director of Student Counseling Services at Radford University. “She wanted to sleep all the time yet complained of no energy.”
In October 2011, Jane began attending therapy sessions for the depression symptoms she was experiencing. Her mother suffered from clinical depression and Jane lived with her mother after her parents divorced.
“Jane said it would take every ounce of her being to make herself go to class, eat or even shower,” said Sullivan. “Jane would then feel so guilty for not living up to her family’s expectations.” These are just a few of the signs that show a person could be dealing with depression.
Radford University has a student-counseling center located on campus that is willing to assist students with depression and most other issues. The counseling center has several counselors and a psychiatrist on staff.
Over the years students have sought advice and help from the counseling center for a variety of issues. According to radford news during the 2011-2012 school year, 746 students sought service from the counseling center. There were even more appointments. The number one presenting problem with many college students is depression. The counseling center here at RU strives to accompany the signs of depression that each student goes through during their tenure at Radford.Erin Sullivan is the director of the student-counseling center on campus and has been there for seven years. Sullivan came to RU from the Carilion Hospital System back in 2005 after an extensive career of over 15 years as a licensed social worker. As part of the Carilion network, she worked at St. Alban’s Psychiatric Hospital. Sullivan graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1990 with her Master’s of Social Work. “It’s very rewarding helping people help themselves,” said Sullivan. “And that’s why I love my job.”
Sullivan says that most of the people coming into the office seeking help are freshmen, with a few graduate students and upper classmen. The main reason why freshmen are the majority in this category is because of the adjustment phase they encounter. This adjustment is sometimes triggered by the change in their support system, as they move from their familiar home atmosphere to a state of independence.
Another reason for the increase in students visiting the counseling center is because more and more students with mental illnesses are able to attend college. In the past, these same individuals were not medically approved to move away from home and their support system but now they are allotted this option.  “Ten years ago they may have stayed at home or gone to a community college but they wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” said Sullivan. “But with the advancements with medications and treatment, they have had that opportunity to move on.”
Sullivan does say that not all cases of depression are students adapting to college or students who were previously diagnosed.
Students lacking the coping skills necessary in order to thrive in the college life can trigger some causes of depression. If a student does not understand how to respond or react to the daily changes of life away from home, they become more likely to develop depression symptoms. “Sometimes I think young adults have not learned effective communication skills,” said Sullivan. “Because of the modern technology and Facebook, I think it makes it more difficult for them to problem solve in person and work through issues.”
Seasonal affective disorder is often a cause of depression that typically starts during the month of October. The Mayo Clinic defines this as “a type of depression that starts during the same time every year.”  Many people have never heard of this type of depression but it as common as any other.
The seasonal affective disorder usually begins in the early fall and lasts through the winter, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people who suffer from this particular type never experience it during the spring or summer. “For some folks who are predisposed to depressive symptoms, the lack of light in the fall can actually trigger depression,” said Sullivan.
Clinical depression is the term used to describe depression that is much more severe than just feeling down.  According to the Mayo Clinic, most people diagnosed with this type are experiencing suicidal thoughts, weight loss, fatigue or loss of interest in life. These are very severe symptoms and should be addressed immediately by seeking medical help.
The other type of depression is known as the blues. This is normally a feeling of being down and not very motivated. Usually the blues pass fairly quickly and no medical attention is needed. Sullivan describes the blues as being short-term.
“Everybody goes through periods of time where they have a loss, they have a frustration, they’re upset with a friend,” said Sullivan. “It’s not long lasting“A lot of times when someone is clinically depressed, they automatically have those negative thoughts,” said Sullivan. “We treat clinical depression daily.” Jane hesitantly agreed to start medication, which was an antidepressant,” said Sullivan. “Jane struggled through the remainder of the semester but was able to sleep regularly, eat normally and concentrate better.”
Sullivan, and counselors on campuses everywhere, encourages students to take action to avoid depression before it begins. Activities such as communicating more efficiently, eating healthy, exercising and sleeping well are key ingredients to avoid depression.