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National conference at U-M to address depression among students

"Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance. It is tumbleweed distress that thrives on thin air, growing despite its detachment from the nourishing earth."Andrew Solomon, "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression"

More college students than ever before are seeking treatment for depression, but organizers of a first-ever national conference at the University say known cases only scratch the surface of a problem that must be addressed with community-wide participation.

The U-M Depression Center and Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies have teamed up to organize the March 6-7 conference, Depression on College Campuses: Best Practices and Innovative Strategies. The event will be held in the Michigan League.

"Depression has been documented as the country's most burdensome health problem," says Dr. John Greden, executive director of the new Depression Center and chair of the Department of Psychiatry. "It starts at young ages, but the awareness among college students is not as high as it should be, the systems aren't really working together adequately and the consequences are widespread.

"We're hoping to increase awareness and improve best practices to fix all of that," he says. In addition, Greden says the conference will address barriers for students across higher education, ranging from the absence of a coordinated referral system to the lack of understanding of their special needs in the classroom. Advocacy, model programs and issues, such as culture and gender, also will be discussed.

Rackham Dean Earl Lewis says three nationally recognized experts on depression are among the presenters. Andrew Solomon, Kathy Cronkite (daughter of newscaster Walter Cronkite) and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah all suffer from the disease and have written books that have helped raise awareness.

Provost Paul N. Courant will give opening remarks.

The conference is expected to draw from the local community and beyond, Lewis says. He says others involved with higher education across the nation have expressed an interest as well. "Anyone who works with college students should consider attending the conference, including health professionals, university leaders, resident advisors and other students, preventive education specialists, third-party payers, journalists and parents," he says.

Lewis says the idea of an organized effort to combat depression came about following a campus tragedy. "We, the deans, gathered very soon after a young woman committed suicide on campus," he says. "We recognized that entering the discussion after such a crisis is too late. Clearly, we need to begin to address what we understand to be a serious health problem at all age groups, but particularly among college students."

The University has the resources to help students with depression and other similar illnesses, Lewis says, but those services have not been well coordinated. The conference is one of many efforts to bring the community together to address the problem in an organized fashion. Greden adds that "we also want to learn from the efforts of those at other universities."

"We started to begin our educational programs last fall with the screening of a video as part of the Dialogues on Diversity series," Lewis says. "More than 600 students came together for the screening and stayed for an hour's worth of questions." The video, "The View from Here," will be shown at the start of the conference. Lewis says a brochure highlighting campus resources has been created and discussions are underway for a special theme semester of coursework focusing on depression.

For a complete schedule of the conference, visit http://www.rackham.umich.edu/DepressionConf.

Depression Conference speakers:

• Andrew Solomon, author of "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression"

Solomon's book has won 11 national awards, including the 2001 National Book Award and a spot as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It has been a New York Times bestseller in paperback and hard cover. In the book, Solomon writes of his own struggle with depression. Solomon has lectured on depression around the world, including at Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Harvard and Brown. He is a member of the National Advisory Board for the U-M Depression Center and a member of the board of Tipper Gore's National Mental Health Awareness Campaign. He is a fellow of Berkeley College at Yale University and is a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

• Kathy Cronkite, author of "On the Edge of Darkness: Conversations About Conquering Depression"

As one who suffers from clinical depression, Cronkite's primary message is: "Depression must be accepted as the medical condition it is in order to combat the stigma attached to it and to make help available for those who suffer from it." In her book, she features celebrities who suffer from depression, including U-M alumnus Mike Wallace, Joan Rivers, Dick Clark, Kitty Dukakis and Rod Steiger, among others. She uses information from well-known researchers, combined with the celebrity conversations, to dispell the myths and stigma that surround mental illness. She also is a member of the U-M Depression Center's National Advisory Board.

• Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, author of "Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression"

Danquah was a young, poverty-stricken single mother who, after the birth of her daughter, suffered depression. Her bio says, "Understanding the importance of strength in a world that often undervalues Black women's lives, she shrouded her illness in silence and denial until penning her moving memoir ..."

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