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October 23, 2008


“Talk to Me” campaign targets depression

A national cell phone company made the question “Can you hear me now?” quite popular in recent years as it attempted to build its customer base while assembling a reliable wireless network.

Likewise, a group of University faculty, staff and students are promoting a different kind of network with their own slogan, “Talk to Me,” in order to call attention to the symptoms of depression and encourage individuals experiencing symptoms to seek assistance from campus and community resources.

A committee comprising Pitt faculty, staff and student leaders from the Division of Student Affairs and Life Solutions (formerly the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program), collaborated with community partners at LEAD (Leading Education and Awareness for Depression) Pittsburgh, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and Contact Pittsburgh to develop the public awareness campaign as part of October’s Depression Awareness Month.

Pitt faculty, staff and students, including resident assistants and student peer educators from the University Counseling Center and Student Heath Service, are wearing green T-shirts bearing the catchphrase “Talk to Me” each Tuesday in October and November. These individuals will provide general information on depression and steer people to appropriate resources.

“Depression is a very real condition that can affect anybody on campus — faculty, staff and our student population,” said Kenyon Bonner, associate dean of students and a member of the depression awareness committee. “The purpose of the Talk to Me campaign is to let people know that the best thing somebody can do if they are experiencing symptoms of depression is talk about it and talk to the right people.”

There are many indicators of depression. Generally, if an individual answers yes to five or more of the following questions and has felt this way for at least two weeks, that person may be experiencing depression and should strongly consider talking to someone.

• Do I feel sad or unhappy?

• Am I uninterested in things I usually enjoy?

• Do I feel hopeless about the future?

• Do I have trouble concentrating and/or can’t make decisions?

• Do I feel sluggish or restless?

• Am I gaining or losing weight?

• Am I sleeping too little or too much?

• Do I feel guilty or worthless?

• Am I irritable or anxious?

• Do I think about dying or killing myself?

If a person has thoughts about death or suicide, he or she should talk to someone immediately, regardless of answers to the other questions.

“Conservative estimates tell us that one in four people are directly impacted by some form of depression during their lifetime,” said Denise Macerelli, senior director of government and community relations at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and a member of the committee. “Whether we know it or not, our lives are touched because we probably know somebody who suffers. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure, but a biological condition that oftentimes gets tripped by life pressures, such as the demands of college life. It’s very treatable. For some people, having the right support system and coping mechanism is needed; more involved medical treatment is necessary for others.”

According to James Cox, director of the University Counseling Center, it is important for people not only to understand the symptoms of depression, but to know what types of activities can help prevent depression. “We want to help individuals manage stress so that it doesn’t become a problem,” said Cox.

Individuals participating in the Talk to Me campaign will distribute cards with the following suggestions on how people can reduce stress and combat depression:

1. Exercise or engage in some physical activity.

2. Get enough sleep, eat well and drink plenty of water.

3. Reduce or eliminate alcohol and drugs; limit caffeine.

4. Focus on positive aspects of your life.

5. Stay connected or get involved in a support network of friends, family and organizations.

6. Set aside time to do things you enjoy.

7. Pace yourself; set realistic goals.

8. Avoid wasting energy on negative thoughts and things you can’t control.

9. Try new ways to relax, such as yoga, massage, deep breathing and meditation.

10. Talk to someone about your concerns.

“If students are doing all of these things to help themselves and still experiencing symptoms of depression, then they need to come to the University Counseling Center,” Cox said. “If faculty or staff are struggling with symptoms of depression, they should contact Pitt Life Solutions for assistance.”

The University Counseling Center can be reached at 8-7930; the phone number for Life Solutions is 1-866/647-3432.

Bonner added: “Sometimes taking the first step is the toughest part, so we’re trying to make that first step very simple. Talk to me or talk to somebody in a green shirt. The important thing is to talk.”

Faculty, staff or students who want to participate in the awareness campaign should attend an information session from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 27 in William Pitt Union Dining Room A, or by contacting Bonner at 8-1074 or

Shawn Ahearn is director of communications in Pitt’s Division of Student Affairs.

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