Mentality raises awareness on depression

BY JENNIFER MISTHAL
Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 12, 2002

Noticing their friends' inability to sleep and irritability, the confused group of students confronted them but could not understand their situation. Their friend's performance in class begins to slip, adding to problems. Offering only an assortment of happy pills, the therapists do not seem to help their depression.

This may have only been a play performed Thursday night in the Michigan League Underground by members of the University student group Mentality, but for those in the play, it was also reality.

The performance was dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, Mentality member Laura Shereda said. The skit was written specifically for a video about college depression and was based on multiple students' experiences.

According to the National Mental Health Association's website, 7.8 percent of men and 12.3 percent of women between the ages of 18-24 report frequent mental distress - a key indicator for depression and other mental disorders.

"Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, a dramatic change it in appetite, a dramatic weight loss in a quick period of time, disruption in sleep patterns, and irritability" are potential warnings for depression, Jim Epzkorn clinical director of the University's Counseling and Psychological Services said.

Kathy HoganBruen, senior director of prevention at NMHA, said "the biggest symptom of depression is hopelessness" and warns in some extremes cases, it can lead to suicide.

Mentality member Susie Hamilton said the group worked in collaboration with Dialogues on Diversity for the skit to portray a generic freshman experience.

"(Mentality) is powerful because it's speaking about personal experiences. It's not an acting group," said Pat McCune, program director for Dialogues on Diversity. "(Dialogues on Diversity) has sponsored a variety of programs to stimulate discussion of diversity issues ranging from disabilities to religious differences to sexual orientation to race," she added.

McCune videotaped the performance for her upcoming documentary to help people understand what a common health problem depression is and to remove the stigma associated with mental health problems.

"Mental health problems are a type of disability," McCune said.

HoganBruen said depression could start at any time. She also said leaving behind friends, family and the predictability of home is hard for some.

"College is a big transition and can cause stress," HoganBruen said.

After the skit, Mentality engaged in a discussion with audience members. Hamilton said Mentality tries to open up a safe space to talk about mental health and mental illness. The group hopes the conversation continues at home.

"This is OK. Lots of people experience (depression)," Shereda said. "People are actually pretty accepting of things."

According to the NMHA, Shereda is one of 19 million adults affected by depression annually. She said she found that once people knew, "it didn't really make a difference."

"If you take responsibility for your life and actively work to make things better, people will respect you for it," Shereda said.

College depression

From the Mental Health Foundation:

n 50 percent of college students show symptoms of clinical anxiety.

n More than 10 percent of college students suffer from clinical depression.

From the National Institute of Mental Health website:

n Among 15-24 year olds, suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death.

n Depressive disorders affect approximately 19 million American adults.