By Thomas Morrison | LSU Student
A recent survey of Louisiana State University students shows a link between alcohol consumption and depression, a growing problem nationally for undergraduate students.
The National College Health Assessment from the American College Health Association found 74.1 percent of LSU students in the spring of 2011 had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days. The nation's average was 65.2 percent.
In the same survey, 62 percent of LSU students reported they had "felt very sad" at least once in the past 12 months. More than half of the student respondents said they also "felt overwhelming anxiety." The national average is below 50 percent.
"College lifestyles can be a major factor in consumption and in turn depression," said Kathryn Saichuck, health promotion coordinator at LSU.
Saichuck spends most of her time teaching students the skills to cope with stress. She mainly focuses on how alcohol and drug consumption affects students' mental health.
"There is a science behind how depression works. Serotonin is a key neuron transmitter in our brain that keeps us from feeling depressed. Another (neuron transmitter), dopamine, allows us to feel pleasure. When you consume alcohol, you get a fluctuation of the two and a rise in both levels."
Saichuck said initial effects of alcohol consumption can provide a "happy feeling" that 81 percent of LSU students say helps to "break the ice" and "enhances social activity." In the same survey, nearly seven in 10 students say alcohol consumption "allows people to have more fun."
The negative effects come when a student drinks past a healthy level, Saichuck said.
"Females can (typically) have one drink and males two drinks before the brain starts to feel the bad effects. If you go beyond this limit, you get the reverse effects and your levels start to decrease."
According to Saichuck, periods of heavy episodic drinking can cause severe chemical imbalances in the brain which can lead to depression or mood swings. Students who already suffer from chemical imbalances only need to consume one or two drinks a week to experience symptoms of depression or mood swings.
Drinking has a greater impact on 18-21 year olds than adults, Saichuck notes, because the brain is still in development and the impact is more intense.
At a school where 47 percent of the student population "has felt things were hopeless" within the past year, Saichuck wants LSU students to know there are ways to get help.
"If you come (to the Student Health Center), you can see a certified counselor and it's totally free. When they come in, we listen and make a plan of action. We work on stopping (alcohol or drug) consumption if that is an issue."
Psychology major Juliet Berniard believes the issue could be that students are simply not aware of outlets available for help.
"(The university) could do more to let people know there is help available on campus," Berniard said. "They could do something on the websites, make signs or put ads in the newspapers."
Berniard plans to join a campus student health committee which plans to create awareness for off-campus help, such as Baton Rouge's crisis hotline, The Phone (225-924-3900), and the online chat room, www.crisischat.org.
"We help to make life affirming interventions," said Allyson Pardue, coordinator for The Phone. "We don't give advice or try to solve problems; we help them cope with their feelings so they can make better decisions."
The Phone helps more than 1,000 callers a month, according to Pardue, noting callers speak with qualified crisis counselors that go through a rigorous two- month training process.
At the end of the call, the counselor will usually make some suggestions to help the person once they are calm and no longer in a crisis, Pardue said.
"We help them find resources for their specific problems. (For instance) if they have issues with alcohol we suggest a specialist in the local area that can help them."