Student Depression: The First Step Is…

As any college student who’s had experience with any degree of depression can attest, no matter how mild or severe the symptoms, exact origins are mighty difficult to pinpoint. Many students who suffer any degree of depression may at some point attempt to hit that single bullseye, hone in and demarcate a single reason for all their ills. This usually results in systematically missing the mark every single time.

depression bullseye

"Depression has many causes"

Here’s the cold water: there’s more than one bullseye. Way more.

These causes operate in an integrated, latticed network. One cause may be the direct result of another, and this second cause in turn sustains the initial cause, as influencing others.

the complicated network of depression

"Specifically, a latticed network of causes"

For example, financial difficulties make you focus less on schoolwork and more on ruminating and worrying over how to obtain money, resulting in less time spent studying and getting good grades. In turn, poor grades may further facilitate your vexations about getting a decent job after college, influencing self-defeating tendencies like laziness and general hopelessness that steadily eat away you.

These interdependencies bind to form a net that swoops students up and dangles them above a wide ocean of possibilities, isolating them from a liberating and opportunistic life.

This is special kind of net. You can’t simply cut across the bottom and drop down into a depression-free life: you need to hit multiple points at once, and work these points on a continuous basis. Eventually, the net will begin to unravel, and ultimately it will unwind.

the net that holds you from opportunity

Once you relinquish the delimiting thoughts and anxieties that held you prisoner, not only will you feel free to travel along any path you wish, you will also understand the methods for conquering the nets that may come your way in the future.

As you might have inferred from my long-winded metaphor (don’t worry, I have plenty to dish out), tackling depression requires you to address multiple facets of your life, not just one.

Let’s say you’re running to the end zone (which we can think of as the end depression zone) and there are several players all ganging up on you and forcing you out of bounds. These five intimidating foes are all your anxieties, fears, insecurities, etc. They constitute depression. You can picture how difficult it would be to get past this blockade. Imagine now that there are several players on your side, and they easily take down these irksome opponents, clearing you a path to your goal.

end-depression zone

"The end (depression) zone"

Who are these mysterious allies? What keeps them going? Where did they come from? How can you harness their kickass presence to clear a path for yourself?

The vague, astute-monk-atop-the-mountain response would be but a single word: You.

wide mountain monk

"Vague aphorisms are his favorite"

Of course, we’re all in the market for more practical and fleshed out explanations in today’s light-speed world, and so a single word answer to anything is usually met not with deep insight but unfathomable frustration.

befuddled depressed students react like this to wise vague aphorisms

"ME?!"

You can relax. If I wanted to create the world’s shortest self-development guide I’d type “YOU” on a single page, bind it and title it “The Secret of Living the Best Life Possible.” I’m giving up that million-dollar book idea to offer enough real-world examples, wacky metaphors, fun exercises and challenges, personal insight and visuals to make your head spin.

Let’s get you dizzy!

The First Step is…

The first step to healing is frequently touted as acknowledgement. Now, touted is a bit strong since in, let’s say an AA meeting, acknowledgement is far more than just a suggestion—it’s a mandatory step on the path to recovery.

Depression, in a way, is the brain’s acknowledgement of the culmination of distress you’ve experienced thus far. This “acknowledgement” is certainly felt, and is accompanied by a deeply isolating sensation. There may be cases of depressed students who refuse to acknowledge their situation due to embarrassment, fear, social pressure, or pride. But they certainly feel it.

Besides, if you’re reading this, you’ve done a whole load of acknowledgement already.

And so I’d rather begin with something more suitable for the topic at hand: honesty and assessment.

You can call this your first step, not that there is any systematic process to healing yourself (at least in this guide).

These two factors are codependent and work synergistically. Honesty is used to correctly assess yourself, and assessing yourself brings out your self-honesty.

Both are immediately put into play when you fill out the wheel of life, a widely used life-assessment tool:

assess your life with the wheel of life

Filling it out my first time, my wheel looked something like this:

Aleksandr Smechov's original wheel

"I wouldn't keep this as a spare tire..."

Try putting that on a car. You’d probably end up a ditch in the first few minutes. Here are the minimum requirements for a functional wheel: sevens or above all around, with as few deviations of one point as possible, and no deviation of two points or more.

Would you put your wheel on a Ferrari 641?

ferarri 641 requires balanced wheels only

Anything less than nines all around will send this beast spinning out of control. When you have a great wheel, results are exponentially faster. You can imagine a unicycle in traffic, too, if that’s your thing.

unicycle to the max

"Nearly as fast as the Ferrari"

And so this brings us back to our team of allies and the question I posed for them: How can you harness their kickass presence to clear a path for yourself?

By becoming well-rounded, by having a functional wheel to brave your unicycle with (I guess we’re sticking to that metaphor). As you may have by now guessed, balance is the goal of this guide, and helping you achieve it is my mission.

Stay tuned!

———————————————————————————————————

Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.

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