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Mental-health issues affecting college students form the crux of the American Psychiatric Association's latest campaign.

For the rest of the month, the APA's College Mental Health Initiative will seek to heighten awareness of possible treatment methods as well as to de-stigmatize mental-health issues, APA spokesman Jason Young said.

Young cited the suicide risks of college-aged students coupled with the increasing scrutiny of mental-health therapies and medications as an impetus to include this segment in the APA's overall publicity campaign.

"CMHI grew bigger than our organization. Many other organizations signed on with us," Young said.

Mental illness affects college students in many ways. Although the suicide rate for college students has been decreasing since the early 1990s, APA Trustee David Fassler said, suicide still represents the second most common cause of death among college-aged students.

Fassler -- who is also an clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine -- added that 11 percent of college students surveyed have thought about suicide.

College senior Josh Lannik said that the initiative is appropriate, although he questioned the effectiveness of such a program.

"I don't think that it will have a strong effect," Lannik said, adding that some people who know they have a problem already seek help, while others may either be in denial or may attempt to resolve the issue alone.

Fassler said that increasing awareness will cause many more with depression to seek help. He added that efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness have been facilitated by celebrities such as 2004 Miss Rhode Island Aimee Belisle.

Belisle not only admitted her depression and self-mutilation, but also highlighted the issue during her term.

Counseling and Psychological Services, located at the corner of 36th and Walnut streets, is where Penn students can seek mental-health treatment.

CAPS Director Ilene Rosenstein listed adjustment disorders and mood disorders -- such as depression -- as the major mental issues confronting students.

However, CAPS is neither involved in the College Mental Health Initiative nor doing anything specifically different to promote awareness.

Rosenstein stressed CAPS' involvement with incoming students during orientation to promote mental-health awareness, as well as the training of faculty, staff and teaching assistants to recognize when a "student is at risk."

"There is so much support that typically a lot of the transition issues [of students] are taken care of," Rosenstein said. Steps taken to improve the services include the hiring of two additional staff members and a prevention coordinator.

College junior Cassandra Frey said that the services are better known than when she was a freshman, but that "they could be emphasized more."

She added that the prevalence of depression depends a lot on the "atmosphere that you are in" and that many students are not prepared to be on their own and may not get the support they need to stave off depression.

Fassler said that the stress of college and lack of the familiar support group often tease out a pre-existing condition that had never before manifested itself.

Rosenstein stressed the importance of recognizing depression and seeking help.

"Treatment does work," she said.

Depression 101

- Definition: Psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, and feelings of extreme sadness, dejection and hopelessness - Statistics: 50 percent of all college students suffer from some form of depression, while 15 percent meet the criteria for clinical depression - Causes: Environmental factors, social conditions, biochemical abnormalities in the brain involving serotonin and norepinephrine - Risk factors: A family history of depression, previous depression, poor support - Signs and symptoms: Absence of pleasure or inability to experience it, lack of energy, insomnia, appetite and weight changes, irritability, suicidal thoughts or recurrent thoughts of death - Treatment: Medication and psychotherapy Source: American Psychiatric Association

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