Finding the balance

On a daily basis college students deal with a roller coaster of emotions: happiness, sadness, extreme stress, exhaustion, joy and the list continues. Students struggle with being able to maintain a balance between depression and having a high level of contentment or happiness.

According to Darci Nichols, director of counseling services, “depression is a mood disorder” where individuals feel a sense of extreme sadness or hopelessness for two weeks or more. Depression can be confused with mood swings; mood swings last short periods of time whereas depression has a long duration.

“People who are depressed often struggle with getting out of bed in the morning—getting out of bed can take all of your energy and effort when you’re depressed,” Nichols said.

The American College Health Association said that in the last 12 months, 37.6 percent of college students at SDSU felt things were hopeless, 82.6 percent felt overwhelmed by everything they needed to complete, 75.5 percent felt exhausted, 48.1 percent felt very lonely and 50.1 percent felt very sad. 

According to Nichols, the Counseling Center sees approximately 2,400 students.

Nichols said symptoms associated with depression are poor nutrition, lack of sleep, hopelessness for long bouts of time and internal sadness. These symptoms can lead to self-harm and suicide. If someone has symptoms of depression, he or she should schedule an appointment with a counselor.

“Meet with a counselor for an intake, which is usually an hour and 15 minutes, or an hour and a half and … go through a complete history and … assess for all symptoms,” Nichols said.

Meeting with a counselor can help determine if the patient has clinical depression or depression-like symptoms.

Counselors use different types of treatment for depression including talk therapy, medication and a combination of both. Counselors can prescribe talk therapy, which allows the patient to talk to a professional about different stressors in their life and the counselor helps the patient to look at negative situations with a different perspective. This specific type of talk therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy.

“If you’re depressed … talk to a friend and ask the friend to support you in getting help,” Nichols said. “Sometimes people say the hardest thing, the hardest step of the process can be to just ask … for help.”

While depression can be documented and monitored, happiness is a more abstract concept that can vary from person to person. One way a person can become more content with their life is by becoming more involved with groups, clubs or activities.

“Our students who are most content on campus often are most comfortable pursuing involvement opportunities … they’re often going to seek out ways they can get more involved,” said Nick Wendell, the director for the Center for Student Engagement.

Wendell said that getting involved can help students create support systems through different organizations they are involved in or even through the people they live with in the residence halls.

“If a student is happy and confident and secure in their surroundings and that happens to be on our campus, they’re more likely to pursue involvement opportunities,” Wendell said. “If they pursue involvement opportunities, that can lead to happiness.” 

Students on campus stay involved by being active in clubs and doing activities to make their days better.

Kaity Kuske, a senior pharmacy major, is involved in the SDSU concert choir, was the Bum-a-Meal coordinator for the Hobo Day Committee and is an Admissions Ambassador. 

“[Concert choir’s] a good way to get involved with students not in my major,” Kuske said.

Kuske stay happy by reading 15 to 20 minutes every night and “going to choir everyday is an automatic happy.”

Other students get involved in clubs related to their major. Cole Hoyer, a freshman double majoring in dairy production and dairy manufacturing, is involved in Dairy Club, participates in the Farmhouse jitterbug night, Cru and Oasis.

“I did … the dairy club because I grew up on a dairy farm,” Hoyer said. “I want to be involved in promoting the dairy industry.”

Hoyer said that he likes to go running as a stress reliever, Facetime his younger cousins and read a daily Bible verse.

Involvement is one way to add happiness and try to limit the chance of becoming discontent, which can lead to depression. Students can also remember to maintain healthy habits to help with depression.

Nichols said that students can take steps toward happiness by exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep.

Students can take steps to becoming more content through establishing a sense of self-awareness, according to Wendell.

“It isn’t until you really, I think, become more self aware and think about the things that make you happy that you can start to identify the types of support you need in your life,” Wendell said.

Students who are engaged and take stock of their emotions can help themselves to be more content with their daily habits and eventually their lives. Students need to have habits that stimulate health and happy behaviors. 

Jennifer Novotny, the executive director of The Union, said that students come in The Union in varying moods and life experiences. These students have the opportunity to engage with their peers, staff and Union employees and those interactions can change an individual’s perspective.

“A lot of our students really engage with our cashiers of the Market. … these are some of the people they remember in their college experience when they leave and they have formed good, solid relationships with these people who, at first glance, were running them through the register,” Novotny said.

One indicator of happiness is the connections people build with people around them, according to Novotny.

As an administrator, Novotny makes decisions based on students’ needs, not necessarily on what is going to make everyone happy.

“My ambition isn’t to make everyone who walks out the door smile and happy that they got what they wanted,” Novotny said. “Sometimes it’s about getting what they need.”

Novotny wants students to know that The Union is supposed to be a place where students can interact with each other and create lasting relationships.

“Stay in the present,” Nichols said. “The one thing you can control is the next decision you make so stay if not in the present most of the time, allow yourself to set goals and dream about the future.”