Hi, I have been feeling depressed for a long time now (I am not officially diagnosed, but I identify with a lot of the symptoms) and it is affecting my studies. i think university (stress, having no passion towards my degree, feelings of inadequacy) is a very huge trigger. I had sought help in the student services department, and my advisor had said that whatever I am feeling was circumstantial, that it would get better once I am graduate.

My question is, how do I know if it is circumstantial like they said, or if I actually have a problem? It is difficult to determine, since I study broad and live in some student accommodation, so I don’t have a chance to step away from ‘university’ and see how my mood changes, so to speak. I don’t want to be needy or melodramatic, but sometimes I sit in lectures and think about how I would go about killing myself, and feeling sad and hopeless that I would never actually go through with it for various reasons, which I don’t think is normal.

I feel like I am faking it, using a mental illness to justify being behind on deadlines and missing lectures, or that I am merely being dramatic and over-the-top. And yet, sometimes I feel like I can’t handle another minute of everything, that even leaving the dishes out to soak takes too much out of me. I think, ‘oh god, not again’ a lot of the times when I need to do something. I have gotten lax about many things that I used to care about.

I think the advisor thinks I am faking it or being whiny. I don’t judge them for that, they definitely know more than I do, and I think I am faking it too, sometimes. They suggested life coaching, which was very nice and sensible of them, but it shows that they think it is all situational, doesn’t it? Maybe it is, or maybe it is something to do with my brain also. I am very confused.

Thank you. (From the UK)

A:  Thank you for your email. The depth of your understanding and description of the symptoms show how difficult this is for you to cope with. You question is an important one and I am glad you’ve asked it.

Rather than think about a depression as circumstantial or chronic it is often a good idea to think in terms of frequency and intensity. From your description, the frequency and intensity have been increasing. This distress alone is worth looking into treatment. Since you are at the university I would make an appointment with the counseling center. The individuals there are well-trained on evaluating the situation of students and, more importantly, what the best approaches are for treatment. I would highly recommend making the connection to the counselor now and see if you can get some relief as you are finishing up your studies. As you transition the counseling can provide a support base by which you can make your decision about the symptoms improving as your circumstance improves.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral