Women and Trauma Fact Sheets
Women and Trauma Fact Sheets
- Adjustment to Life's Changes
- Anxiety Disorders and Depression
- Eating Disorders and Depression
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Depression
- Suicide and Depression
It can be a difficult time. Suddenly, perhaps for the first time in your life, you're moving away from everything familiar to you - family, friends, home, community - and beginning to make your way as a young adult entirely surrounded by strangers, in a new setting. You may feel that everything is on the line: your ability to succeed at college-level work, to build adult relationships, and to adapt to a lot of change all at once.
According to a recent UCLA study, more than 30% of college freshmen reported feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time during the beginning of college, and Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 40% of a recent freshman class sought help from the student counseling center. So understand that if you're feeling pressure and stress, you're not alone.
Many college students have minor problems adjusting to their new environment. Here are a few ideas that can help you manage your feelings of pressure and stress:
- Better plan your use of time. Make time every day to prioritize your work. Prioritizing can give you a sense of control over what you must do, and a sense that you can do it.
- Plan your work and sleep schedules. Too many students defer doing important class work until late at night, work through much of the night, and start each new day exhausted. Constant fatigue can be a critical trigger for depression. Seven or eight hours of sleep a night is important to your well-being.
- Join an extracurricular activity. Sports, theater, Greek life, the student newspaper - whatever interests you - can bring opportunities to meet people interested in the same things you are, and it provides a welcome change from class work.
- Make a friend. Sometimes this may be a roommate or someone you meet in class or in the cafeteria. Friendships can help make a strange place feel more friendly and comfortable.
- Try relaxation methods. These include meditation, deep breathing, warm baths, long walks, exercise - whatever you enjoy that lessens your feelings of stress or discomfort.
- Take time for yourself each day. Make this special time - even if it's only 15 minutes by yourself - a period where you think about your feelings and dreams. Focusing on yourself can be energizing and gives a feeling of purposefulness and control over your life.
Sometimes however, multitude of the changes and adjustments can trigger depression. If the above techniques do not appear to be working, don't hesitate to seek professional help. If your feelings of constant stress become feelings of sadness that go on for weeks and months, you may be experiencing more than just difficulty adjusting to life's changes. Seek assistance from the university counseling service, student health center, your doctor, or a mental health professional.
Anxiety disorders and depression are the two most common mental illnesses experienced by Americans. Approximately half of all people who suffer from anxiety disorders also suffer from depression.
Anxiety disorders are real. Anxiety disorders are more than just "nerves". They are characterized by feelings of panic, fear, and discomfort that arise with no clear cause, in situations that are not usually stressful or dangerous. In many cases, anxiety disorders arise for no obvious reason and often without warning. The feelings of anxiety can happen over and over again, unless treatment is received. If left untreated, an anxiety disorder can make everyday life miserable.
Anxiety disorders are common. More than 19 million American adults live with anxiety disorders, which include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias (including social phobia), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder.
Anxiety disorders can interfere with having a full, productive life. People with anxiety disorders may experience extreme responses to non-threatening situations, and these reactions can create lives filled with chronic anxiety, terror or discomfort. However, with therapy and/or medication, people can have full and productive lives.
Anxiety disorders are linked to depression. The life-changing impact of anxiety disorders may trigger depression - and it’s also true that depression may generate anxiety disorders. Two out of three people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety. About 80% of depressed individuals suffer psychological anxiety symptoms: unrealistic apprehension, fears, worry, agitation, irritability, or panic attacks. Some 60% of people with depression have anxiety-related physical symptoms: headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain, among others. Approximately 65% of those with depression experience sleep disturbances, about 20% feel agitated, 25% have phobia, approximately 17% report generalized anxiety symptoms and 10% suffer panic attacks.
Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Like depression, the most common and successful ways to treat anxiety disorders, are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.
The Major Anxiety Disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is usually the diagnosis if you experience six months or more of continual, extreme worry and tension that is not based on real concerns. Subjects include health, loved ones, finances, and jobs. Sometimes, the "worry" is nameless, taking the form of a constant feeling of dread.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is marked by obsessions - repeated, upsetting thoughts and images - that you cannot control by yourself. To combat these images and thoughts and ease anxiety, a person with OCD spends time in repetitive rituals (compulsions), such as hand washing, checking and re-checking, and following rigid procedures.
- Panic Disorder is most often characterized by the presence of panic attacks, which are feelings and symptoms such as a pounding heart, chest pain, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, numbness and fear of dying. Panic attacks happen fast, appear out of the blue and take place over and over again. There is usually no physical cause for these attacks.
- Phobias are deep-seated fears that are extreme, irrational and upsetting to a person’s life. A person may experience a phobia to a specific object or situation that isn’t usually harmful - such as claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and acrophobia (fear of heights). Social phobia is fear of being watched, embarrassed or humiliated while doing something in public, such as public speaking, eating, or writing. Agoraphobia is the fear of places or situations from which escape might be hard, like being in a crowd.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the long-term, severe and continuing reaction a person may experience following a disaster (such as a fire or earthquake) or a very traumatic experience (war, rape, or sexual abuse). PTSD often occurs in people after they have experienced or witnessed one or more acts of violence. Symptoms include nightmares, loss of sleep, and flashbacks. PTSD interferes with concentration and the ability to enjoy life.
Begin your search for help with your student health center or counseling service on campus. There are also other resources that can provide information and support.
National Mental Health Association: www.nmha.org
Anxiety Disorders Association of America: www.adaa.org
The Anxiety-Panic Internet Resource: www.algy.com/anxiety/index.shtml
Panic Anxiety Education Management Services: www.paems.com.au/index.html
Anxiety/Panic Attack Resource Site: www.anxietypanic.com
Freedom From Fear: www.freedomfromfear.com
National Anxiety Foundation: http://lexington-on-line.com/naf.html
National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov
Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation: www.ocfoundation.org
One third to one half of people with eating disorders report struggling with depression and anxiety.
Sometimes depression can lead to eating disorders – and for some, eating disorders can trigger depression. There are three major eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. While the symptoms of each differ, people experiencing these illnesses generally are also suffering from stress, social pressure, and other mental health problems. Each is treatable, but can cause serious physical and emotional problems, if left untreated.
- Anorexia Nervosa – Anorexia’s core symptom is an intense, unreasonable fear of becoming fat, which doesn’t ease even with severe weight loss and extreme reduction of food intake. Untreated anorexia has severe physical consequences – disrupted menstrual periods, malnutrition, and even death.
- Bulimia Nervosa – The key characteristic of bulimia is ongoing bingeing (eating large quantities of food) and purging (vomiting, excessive exercise or use of laxatives). Stress, intense fear of gaining weight and depression are some triggers for bulimia. People with the disorder eat to ease these stresses, and then seek to relieve the guilt they feel for overeating by purging. All the purging methods cause physical problems in time, including electrolyte imbalances, which impair nerve function, dehydration, and stomach and muscle cramps.
- Binge Eating Disorder – Binge eating is compulsive overeating throughout the day. People with this disorder often eat quickly, feel out of control while eating, hoard and hide food from others. They are often depressed, with feelings of self-disgust, guilt and isolation. Binge eating, like anorexia and bulimia, is harmful to one’s health. Problems triggered by binge eating can include high blood pressure, heart problems, joint pain and fatigue.
Body image disturbances underly the development of all eating disorders. Women, in particular, are socialized to believe their worth and power comes from rigid cultural definitions of beauty, including thinness. The result of this may be the development of depression, self-loathing and eating disorders.
Begin by visiting your university counseling service or the student health service. Your doctor, a mental health professional or these other sources may also help.
National Mental Health Association: www.nmha.org, 1-800-969-6642
Eating Disorders and Prevention, Inc.: www.edap.org
The Eating Disorders Site: www.closetoyou.org/eatingdisorders
The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders: www.somethingfishy.org
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders: www.anred.com
American Anorexia/Bulimia Association: www.aanbainc.org
Overeaters Anonymous: www.overeatersanonymous.org
American Dietetic Association: www.eatright.org
When college students are depressed, they may experience other health or mental health problems. To relieve the misery of depression, some college students turn to drugs or alcohol. Likewise, when college students abuse alcohol and/or drugs, depression can develop. On the surface, it may seem like a good idea – to get high, to have fun, to relax, and to escape – but the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse soon become apparent in your life. Like depression, alcohol and drug abuse is serious. Fortunately, it is also treatable and the key to treatment is to recognize the symptoms and to get help. Take a look at this basic information about the connection between alcohol and/or drug abuse and depression.
- Alcohol abuse does lasting damage. One night of heavy drinking can impair your ability to think well for up to 30 days. Tens of thousands of today’s college students will eventually die of alcohol-related causes, from accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and other diseases. Women are also more likely to develop alcohol-related organ damage, developing liver disease sooner than men, and perhaps increasing the risk for breast cancer.
- Behavioral changes and consequences of drug abuse may include changes in overall personality, depression, declining grades, loss of interest in family and friends, over-sensitivity, moodiness, nervousness, paranoia, secretive or suspicious behavior, and excessive talkativeness. Often people also experience difficulty in paying attention, and a general lack of motivation and energy, sometimes characterized by a “who cares” attitude.
- Physical changes associated with drug abuse are often changes in eating habits, lack of physical coordination, puffy face, hyperactivity, tremors, excessive sweating, runny nose or hacking cough.
- Alcohol abuse can compromise your personal safety. As many as 70% of college students admit to having engaged in sexual activity as a result of alcohol abuse, and 90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol has been used by either the victim or the assailant. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and can make people more vulnerable to troublesome situations. When women drink alcohol they are more easily impaired than men, because of the way their body absorbs the alcohol. People’s perceptions of potentially dangerous situations often change when alcohol or drugs are involved.
Are You Abusing Alcohol and/or Drugs? Some Hard Questions
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your use of alcohol and/or drugs. If you answer “yes” to most of them, then you’re probably using too much:
- Is your personality different when you drink or do drugs?
- Do you drink or do drugs to gain courage to face social situations?
- Has your drinking or drug use ever caused you to miss class or appointments?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs as escapes when you are upset?
- Is it hard for you to stop drinking after you have one or two drinks?
- Do you always end up drunk, once you start drinking?
- Have you tried, and failed, to drink less alcohol or drink none at all?
- Have you tried and failed to cut down or stop using illicit drugs?
- Do you sometimes have trouble remembering what you did while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs? Do you regret doing some of the things you do remember?
- Have friends or family members tried to express their concern about your drinking or drug use?
- Has your class work suffered because of your drinking or drug use?
- Have you needed a drink in the morning to get going after a night of heavy drinking?
If you need help dealing with your drinking or drug use, contact your student health and/or counseling service. In addition to those services and the organizations listed below, ask friends and family for help and support. Most people who care about you will be glad to support your efforts to reduce your drinking or drug use.
- National Mental Health Association: www.nmha.org
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment: www.samhsa.gov/csat/csat/htm
- National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information: www.health.org
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: www.ncadd.org
- Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aa.org
- Women for Sobriety: www.womenforsobriety.org
- Facts on Tap – Alcohol and Your College Experience: www.factsontap.org
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.nida.nih.gov and www.clubdrugs.org
- 800-DRUGHELP is a 24/7 hotline for confidential answers to your questions or information about help in your community. Also check the website, www.drughelp.org
- The BACCHUS and GAMMA Peer Education Network: www.bacchusgamma.org
- National Women’s Health Resource Center: http://www.healthywomen.org/
- National Women’s Health Information Center: www.4woman.gov
The Problem of Suicide
- In 1998, suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for all Americans, the third leading cause of death for those aged 15-24, and the second leading killer in the college population.
- These statistics demonstrate the seriousness of suicide, which is often linked to untreated depression. Clinical depression affects more than 19 million adults every year.
- Although women suffer from clinical depression and attempt suicide more than men, men are more likely to complete the act. Any talk of suicide by a friend or loved one should be taken seriously and help should be sought immediately.
Depression and thoughts of suicide can impact a person’s life in many different ways. Not everyone experiences depression and suicidal tendencies in the same way. Some people may have behavioral changes, while others experience physical changes.
Depression and suicide have many common warning signs including:
- Sadness or anxiety
- Feelings of guilt, helplessness or hopelessness
- Trouble eating or sleeping
- Withdrawing from friends and/or social activities
- Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Specific signs of potential suicide include:
- Talking openly about committing suicide
- Talking indirectly about “wanting out” or “ending it all”
- Taking unnecessary or life-threatening risks
- Giving away personal possessions
Depression alone or in combination with aggressive behavior, substance abuse and/or anxiety is found in over half of all suicides. If depression is present, substance abuse, anxiety, impulsivity, rage, hopelessness and desperation may increase the risks of suicide.
Suicide can be also be triggered by a number of things including:
- stressful events, such as a failed exam or failure to get a job
- crises in significant social or family relationships
- interpersonal losses
- changes in body chemistry
- high levels of anger or anxiety
How to help a friend
If you notice any of the above warning signs in a friend or loved one, you have reason to be concerned. There are ways that you can be helpful to a friend or loved one who is thinking of taking their own life.
- Be honest and express your concerns. For example, “You seemed really down lately; is something bothering you?”
- Ask directly about thoughts of suicide. For example, “Have you thought of hurting yourself?” If suicidal thoughts are expressed it is important to contact the university counseling center, student health center or the local mental health association.
- Listen and offer emotional support, understanding and patience.
- Convey the message that depression is real, common and treatable. Suicidal feelings are real and preventable.
- Offer to accompany your friend to see a counselor.
If you, a family member or a friend need help, please contact your student health and/or counseling service. The following organizations may also help, providing additional information about depression and suicide.
National Mental Health Association
1-800-989-6642 or www.nmha.org
National Institute of Mental Health
1-800-421-4211 or www.nimh.nih.gov
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
1-888-333-2377 or www.asfp.org
American Association for Suicidology
202-237-2280 or www.suicidology.org