Conference talks self-care

Paul Sherman/Daily
Scott Cousino, CEO of myStrength, Inc. and panelists discuss the online solutions that can promote mental health self-management for students at the Depression on College Campuses Conference at Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Michelle Gillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 27, 2013

In its eleventh year, the University Depression Center’s Depression on College Campuses Conference focused on healthful self-care.

Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the conference aimed to raise awareness about and teach coping mechanisms for depression.

The two-day conference started Tuesday, with an opening keynote address by Don Vereen Jr., director of the University’s Substance Abuse Research Center.

Vereen said people — especially young people — who are afflicted with depression try to treat themselves by self-medicating in order to temporarily escape the feeling of depression. He cautioned that this behavior primes the brain for addiction if one self-medicates regularly, and added that young people are sometimes afraid to get help because of the negative stigma associated with addiction.

“Our society tends to focus on the negative. We have a national institute on mental health, but they don’t focus on mental health, they focus on disease,” Vereen said. “People don’t go around thinking ‘What experiences can I engage in with him that can keep him from needing to ever have to use drugs again?’” he continues. “(People believe) once an addict, always an addict.”

Trish Meyer, program director for outreach and education at the Depression Center, said other events during the conference focused specifically on actions students could take to cope with depression.

“The closing panel was about the new online tools that students can use for their self-care that incorporate strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy,” Meyer said. “These are sort of coping skills that students can use to help manage depression or even to just manage your everyday stress rather than just clinical depression or anxiety.”

Meyer said the conference provided a unique opportunity for the department and 21 University schools and departments to work together to raise awareness about self-care. She believes the support from the community shows a University-wide understanding of the prominence of depression on college campuses.

“The reason (the schools and departments donated money) was so that we could offer free registration to all students,” Meyer said. “I think it’s really a testament to the University of Michigan campus that different departments recognize the importance of recognizing this issue.”

Sharon Smith, director of career and counseling services at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has previously attended the annual conference. Once again, she said the conference proved useful for mental health professionals.

“It’s really good every time,” Smith said. “We are already doing everything that they have talked about in the sessions (at Aquinas College), just in a smaller budget. It’s good to be assured that we’re doing what we should be doing.”