Programs spread awareness of depression treatment

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Online Poster

By Frank Krolicki

Stress from exams, relationship problems, work and living environments might create a buildup that can lead to clinical depression. In recognition of National Depression Screening Day – a part of Mental Illness Awareness Week – free depression screenings and educational programs are being offered.

Screenings will be offered today in room 129 of the Illini Union from 12 to 2 p.m. and in room 118 of building C at Parkland College from 12 to 1 p.m.

In a screening, someone who suspects they suffer from depression can talk to mental health professionals for a diagnosis, and if needed, methods of treatment can be recommended.

The Champaign-Urbana Mental Health Public Education Committee – which includes organizations such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Provena Behavioral Health and the programs of counseling and clinical psychology at the University – is sponsoring the screenings.

Fannie Griffin, the president of NAMI in Champaign County, said the screenings were a good way to emphasize the seriousness of depression.

“Having the screening on campus is excellent because college students are reporting higher incidents of depression,” Griffin said. “Statistics say that one in four has experienced or is experiencing it.”

She said college students often do not know they are depressed and do not think they need any help.

“Many times people don’t even consider themselves depressed,” she said. “But when everything becomes negative and there is just no joy in life anymore, it is a good sign of clinical depression.”

Griffin also said freshmen could be particularly susceptible to depression.

“They (freshmen) often have to leave a lot of things behind, such as their family and friends,” she said. “And in addition to this, they have to live in a very small space with a roommate who they do not know well or don’t get along with.”

Jim Hannum, a clinical associate professor in counseling psychology, said students should feel comfortable getting a screening because the process is confidential, straightforward and only takes a few minutes.

“There is a simple checklist of symptoms related to depression and anxiety,” Hannum said. “And if someone is found to have a certain number of those symptoms, they would probably be referred to places where they can get treatment.”

He explained that the two most common types of treatment are medication and counseling.

But the focus of a screening is to provide helpful information, not to obligate a person to take a certain course of action, Hannum said.

Zarah Axelrod, a public relations volunteer for NAMI, said there is often a stigma attached to mental illness that could lead to less people seeking diagnosis or treatment.

“A lot of times people will not want to take medication, for instance, because they do not like the idea of being labeled ‘mentally ill,'” Axelrod said. “Hopefully the screenings and programs will help people to realize that there is no shame in it.”

Dennis Cockrum, Community Outreach Supervisor for Provena Behavioral Health, said the department was also holding a “Creative Expressions” film festival and art show this weekend at the Virginia Theater, located at 203 W. Park Ave. in Champaign. He said the event was meant to raise awareness of depression and other mental illnesses.

“We wanted to hold an event that gets the whole community involved and hopefully reduce the stigma of mental illness,” Cockrum said.

Films being shown are Benny and Joon, Finding Nemo and A Beautiful Mind.

“All of these films deal with mental health issues and working through depression or tragedy,” Cockrum said.

There will also be a free art show that features creations by people with mental illnesses held on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.

“It has been very exciting to be involved with this because it is meant to bring together people with different interests to think about mental health issues,” Cockrum said.

Griffin said she hoped people who suffer from depression and their families and friends will go to the programs because they provide opportunities for open discussion and information on how to reach solutions.

“You can’t just tell people who are depressed to snap out of it,” she said. “These programs will help people understand the right ways of treating a mental illness.”