Students and staff from colleges and universities throughout the nation will come together in Ann Arbor at the end of February to gain and share knowledge about managing depression on college campuses.

The 11th Annual Depression on College Campuses conference will be held on Feb. 26 and 27, with a special focus on “healthy self-care.”

Trish Meyer, program director for outreach education for the University Depression Center, is one of the primary organizers of the conference. She said the goal of this year’s conference is to help students manage symptoms of depression on a daily basis in a healthy way. There will be a series of speakers, panel discussions and workshops over the course of the two-day conference.

“We’re not talking about that students should be able to take care of this by themselves but in conjunction with professional treatment … there are lots of strategies they can use, including exercise, better sleep, journaling … that are healthy self-care strategies, as opposed to the more unhealthy self-care strategies such as drinking or drug use,” Meyer said.

Meyer said the stress of a college environment can bring symptoms of depression to the forefront.

“Given all of the other stressors that are unique to a college setting, including lack of sleep and perhaps alcohol and substance abuse, it sort of creates the perfect storm for people who have a vulnerability to developing these illnesses when they might first experience it,” Meyer said.

Increasing early diagnosis is a positive development and is helping many people with mental health disorders reach their goals, one of which may be going to college. As a result, college campuses need to be more aware of how to provide resources to these students, Meyer said.

The conference is set apart by its multi-disciplinary structure, bringing experts from multiple fields and all community members are welcome.

Meyer said organizing such a large conference has been a rewarding experience.

“So often, on big campus like U of M, everybody’s in their little area and they do their thing,” Meyer said. “But the opportunity to kind of collaborate and connect across campus with people all working toward the same goal is also really valuable, and often leads to new collaborations.”

John Greden, the executive director of the University’s Comprehensive Depression Center, is one of three co-chairs of the conference planning committee. He too stressed the importance of conversation about depression on campuses.

“We’re dealing with illnesses that affect one in every six people in the country,” Greden said. “What we’re emphasizing this year is the identification of strategies for students and counselors and parents and everybody else to pick up on that really help the situation rather than send it backwards. I think that’s what the terms self-care and self-management mean.”

Greden said the conference began when the Board of Regents approved the formation of a campus Depression Center. Shortly thereafter, there was a student suicide on campus. He said this event sparked the desire to hold a conference to learn and teach how to best handle depression in a college setting.

Greden said the first conference attracted attendees from nearly 50 campuses nationwide. Eleven years later, he said he hopes the conference is still making a difference.

“By no means have we solved all the problems,” he said. “But we hope we’ve done some good things.”

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