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Depressed faculty, students reach out at PLNU

At a department chapel in September, a faculty member shared their story of struggling with depression, opening the doors to how depression is dealt with at PLNU for both faculty and students.

“The faculty member described how [they] reached out to fellow faculty members for help with depression issues some time ago,” said a student present at the department chapel. “To my surprise, not one fellow faculty member came to the rescue and was willing to hear the pleas of help.”

Two class sessions were canceled because the faculty member was too depressed to come to school. In response, students wrote letters and offered to chat over coffee.

The faculty member is currently seeing a counselor, which is covered by PLNU’s medical insurance benefits plan.

PLNU also offers an, “Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to faculty and staff members. It is a confidential free resource that is available to assist employees in offering support and counseling with personal concerns like depression,” said Jeff Herman, associate vice president for human resources.

Health.com reported in 2010 that teachers ranked six on the top 10 careers with the highest rate of depression.

“While I do believe that we have a problem on campus of how people respond to those in need, I am not sure that I can share my personal experience,” said the faculty member. “I guess I can say that I think students need a place they can go to be treated like human beings first and not judged or turned away because the issues they are dealing with are too complicated.”

The Wellness Center was contacted and said they did provide counseling as stated on their website.

In 2012, the Wellness Center merged with the Academic Support Center to form the new Student Success and Wellness Center. Details of this merger included the termination of the Wellness Center’s four counselors and nurse practitioner as well as reducing the number of counseling session from unlimited to eight.

“The Wellness Center is fully staffed with licensed masters level counselors who provide free, confidential, brief therapeutic services to undergrad students at PLNU,” said Kimberly J. Bogan, the associate dean of Student Success and Wellness. “Students are invited to work together with a therapist for six to eight counseling session, which meet the needs of most students who request help.”

According to Dr. Daniel Jenkins, a psychology professor at PLNU and clinic director of Lighthouse Psychological Services in Mission Valley, there are many different types of depression and each type necessitates a different form of treatment.

“There are some types that are exclusively related to environmental factors,” said Jenkins via email. “The stress of college and living away from home, for example, will make depression more likely to occur in college students. This type of depression would be environmentally caused (exogenesis depression).”

“Other times, the depression might be related to personality, genetics, or chemistry of the body (endogenesis depression),” said Jenkins. “It may be related to hormonal imbalances, for example. Typically, when the depression is caused by environment, we simply prescribe psychotherapy to help the person cope. If it is due to internal factors, we typically recommend both psychotherapy and antidepressant medications to treat the depression.”

The type of counseling the Wellness Center provides is called the Brief Therapy Model, with the ability for students to extend counseling sessions beyond the six or eight, said Jenkins. If further help is needed, students are referred out to other practices in San Diego.

However, for students like Ross Nederhoff, a junior double majoring in media communications and broadcast journalism, his time with a counselor made all the difference.

“As for my experience with the Wellness Center, I feel that it has been very positive,” said Nederhoff. “I have actually had experiences with them that were both medical and also psychological. During my freshman year I ended up going to the Wellness Center to speak with a counselor. I so appreciate all of the attention I received and I still, to this day, use a lot of the skills I learned there in order to deal with my hectic schedule, stress and anxieties.”

At the end of his sophomore year, Nederhoff was encouraged by the Wellness Center to seek the opinion of a specialist when he approached them after experiencing heart issues, he said. The specialist diagnosed him with the rare heart defect Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW).

“I had heart surgery this past summer to fix the abnormality, but without the Wellness Center’s guidance, I would have likely kept on living in danger of sudden heart failure,” said Nederhoff.

According to a spring 2013 national college health assessment survey conducted by the American College Health Association, 22 percent of males surveyed and 28 percent of females surveyed said that depression had affected their academic performance. The scale ranged from “experienced, not affected” to “significant disruption.”

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