Best Commentary


50 Shades of Dismay

By Aliza Chasan
Queens College

I keep a pharmacy bottle of little blue pills on my desktop. I carry another one filled with little white pills with me at all times. And no, I am not a drug addict of any sort. The pills are for my anxiety disorder.

On Oct. 11, the campus hosted screenings outside of Frese Hall to try and reach out to campus individuals suffering from depression or anxiety like I am. Oct. 11 is both National Depression Screening Day and National Coming Out Day. So though I am not coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community, I suppose it is apt that I am coming out as an individual suffering from anxiety.

“Come talk about how depressed you are,” is a hard sell, Kris Belmonte, who headed the screening booth, said.

The screenings involve stopping by for a talk, filling out a form and then potentially going into Frese Hall to set up a meeting with an on-campus therapist.

While I applaud the Counseling and Resource Center for taking this step and reaching out to individuals with mental health issues, I worry that it is ineffectual and far from enough.

Centers for Disease Control data from as recently as April show that a full 10 percent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from depression. Thankfully, CDC data show that New Yorkers are a bit cheerier than most – just 7.1 to 8.3 percent of adults experience depression.

College age students are not so lucky. A 12-year study by Hofstra University found that as many as 41 percent of college-age individuals suffer from depression. The same study showed that the rate of depression among college students rose 7 percent from 1997 to 2009.

Look around your classroom. Do you see that girl looking out the window while absentmindedly twirling her hair? How about that boy not-so-discreetly-as-he-thinks playing a game on his laptop? Maybe you’re watching the guy with the meticulous notes as he color-codes a page. Chances are that one of them suffers from depression.

Nevertheless, very few people stopped by the screening table this year or last. Why? The stigma. Belmonte said people might consider stopping by as a sign of weakness or that, because of the diversity of cultural norms of QC students, there might be some barriers to seeking out and subsequently accepting help.

Many families, communities and traditions consider the idea of seeking help from a therapist to be unacceptable, taboo. People twist reaching out for help into something wrong or embarrassing. But the frame of mind with which people think about therapy can be changed.

In Argentina, the number of practicing psychologists is on the rise. In the last four years, the amount has risen from 145 per 100,000 people to 196 per 100,000 according to data from Modesto Alonso, a researcher. In the U.S., there are just 27 psychologists per 100,000 individuals according to the American Psychological Association.

Senior Debbie Nehmad, whose family is from Argentina, confirmed that from what she’s heard from her family, nearly everyone in Argentina sees a psychologist.

“They don’t wait until they’re on the verge of suicide or refusing to eat to get help, because they don’t see therapy as something reserved for quote-unquote “crazy people” or for when there’s “something wrong,” Nehmand said. “They see someone because it’s healthy to have someone to talk to, a neutral party to help you sort out the everyday stresses of life.”

Argentineans are willing to open up, share who they are and get help if help is needed. Far from being taboo, it is something almost expected.

“I’ve often heard my cousins say something like ‘Oh, my psychologist said something interesting the other day’ in normal, open conversation. It isn’t something people shy away from or are ashamed of,” Nehmad said.

Untreated depression can cause worsening depression, insomnia, weight fluctuations, health deterioration and thoughts of suicide. William Styron wrote in his book “Darkness Visible” that “the word ‘depression’ is a bland clinical label and such a wimp of a word compared to the raging storm inside the victim’s brain. Most of us non-depressives can’t truly know the torment involved.”

Society needs to learn to overcome the stigma and change our pattern of thinking so the consequences of untreated depression no longer go ignored. People need to come out and say: “It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to ask for help.”

In the U.S., one person every minute attempts suicide. It took me two minutes to read over my thoughts written here. That means for two people, life was too much and needed to end.