Depression: Expert Counsel

Rebecca Hamilton '92 works with depressed and troubled students on a daily basis at the Barat Campus of DePaul University.

"One of the amazing things about this work is seeing someone who is in so much trouble--even contemplating ending their own life--turn it around and become a successful college graduate. It's so fabulous," says Hamilton, who earned a master's degree in counseling psychology from Northwestern University. "When you actually see them walk across the stage at graduation, this seems like the coolest field ever."

Hamilton, thirty-two, is the assistant director of counseling and wellness-education director at Barat, a small college that merged with DePaul two years ago. The bulk of her job involves working with students one-on-one for short- and long-term counseling. But another tough task is breaking down the stereotypes and misconceptions about depression that keep students from seeking help.

"One of our biggest problems getting people in here is that they don't label what they're going through as depression," she explains. "They don't understand that it's a disease. They don't understand the severity of it."

She points out that 10 to 15 percent of people who are clinically depressed eventually attempt suicide, but many students feel like they should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and get through it on their own.

High-school and college students also have symptoms that don't necessarily fit the traditional image of depression. While they might be lethargic and have trouble getting out of bed, students can also be irritable, treat people badly, and engage in high-risk behavior--drinking, drug use, sex with strangers, or reckless driving. "It's almost like they are trying to shake themselves out of it or create some drama to live for," Hamilton says. "It's an interesting symptom that can be misdiagnosed."

Even though she majored in psychology, Hamilton didn't even know counseling services were available at Kenyon until her senior year. She could have used the help her sophomore year after a "pretty intense" breakup with her boyfriend. Because the main developmental task of people in their teens and early twenties is to achieve intimacy through their peer group instead of through their family, she says, "breakups are huge for college students."

"I definitely experienced a really, really tough sophomore year. Plus, it was February in Gambier, and that's no fun," she remembers with a laugh. "I came out of it once I realized it was a good thing I'd broken up with that person. But counseling would have helped."