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University Counseling Center

The Depressed Student

Depression, and the variety of ways it manifests itself, is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life’s ups and downs. With the busy and demanding life of a college student, it is safe to assume that most students will experience periods of reactive depression during their college careers. It is when the depressive symptoms become so extreme or are so enduring that they begin to interfere with the student’s ability to function in school, work, or social environments, that the student will come to your attention and be in need of assistance.

Due to the opportunities that faculty and staff have to observe and interact with students, you are often the first to recognize that a student is in distress. Look for a pattern of these indicators:

  • Tearfulness/general emotionality or a marked lack of emotion
  • Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
  • A deep sense of sadness
  • Dependency (a student who makes excessive requests for your time)
  • Markedly diminished performance
  • Lack of energy/motivation
  • An inability to experience pleasure
  • Infrequent or sporadic class attendance
  • Increased anxiety/test anxiety/performance anxiety
  • Difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making
  • Irritability
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Irregular eating and sleeping
  • Fatigue and social withdrawal
  • Alcohol or drug use

Sometimes depression includes irritation, anxiety and anger. In its most serious form, depression can be accompanied by self-destructive thoughts and intentions as a way to escape from the emotional pain. Research shows that depression can be highly responsive to both psychotherapy and medication.

Students experiencing depression often respond well to a small amount of attention for a short period of time. Early intervention increases the chances of the student’s rapid return to optimal performance.

What You Can Do:

  • Talk to the student in private
  • Listen carefully and validate the student’s feelings and experiences
  • Be supportive and express your concern about the situation
  • Let the student know you’ve noticed that she/he appears to be feeling down and you would like to help
  • Reach out and encourage the student to discuss how she/he is feeling
  • Offer options to further investigate and manage the symptoms of depression. Discuss clearly and concisely an action plan such as having the student immediately call for a counseling appointment.
  • Refer student to the University Counseling Center (275-3113)
  • Be willing to consider or offer flexible arrangements (e.g., extension on a paper or exam), if appropriate, as a way to alleviate stress and instill hope
  • Ask student if he/she has thoughts of suicide. If so, do not leave the student alone. Walk him/her over to UCC. If it is after 7:00pm Monday-Thursday, after 5:00 pm on Friday, or on the weekend, access emergency service by calling our on-call service @ 275-3113.
  • If concerned, ask.


  • Minimize the student’s feelings, e.g. “Don’t worry. Everything will be better tomorrow.”
  • Bombard the student with “fix it” solutions or advice
  • Argue with the student or disrupt that the student is feeling depressed
  • Provide too much information for the student to process
  • Chastise the student for poor or incomplete work
  • Expect the student to stop feeling depressed without intervention
  • Be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal if you suspect she/he may be (e.g. “Have you had thoughts of harming yourself?” See page entitled “The Suicidal Student” for further information.)
  • Assume they are suicidal.
  • Assume the family knows about the student’s depression.

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