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    Professor delves into issue of depression

    Homesickness, bouts of sadness and loneliness: many college students living away from home have experienced these feelings at one point or another during their college careers. Is this depression? Maybe, maybe not, says Joanne Souza, lecturer for Stony Brook’s Biochemistry and Cell Biology Department.

    Souza, who is also a prior co-faculty director of the Undergraduate College of Human Development, is the recipient of the 2010 Fellowship in Research and Applications for Social Change, a grant awarded by Walden University, for her thesis, “The Impact of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising on Health Seeking Behavior for Depressive Symptoms.”

    Souza said individuals over time develop what she calls an “illness-schema,” a procedure used to assess whether there is a threat to their health when they experience symptoms.

    This schema involves a basic thought process; First, symptoms occur which raises the question, “Am I sick?” If so, what health threats match these symptoms? Last, what do I do about it? This schema is created over time from many sources, including all types of advertising, information on the internet, books or magazines, other people, or prior experience.

    According to Souza, the illness-schema regarding depressive symptoms may have been disproportionately affected by direct-to-consumer advertising.

    “Direct-to-consumer adv-ertising basically takes the overlapping symptoms of many mood disorders and calls them something called depression… generalizing a set of symptoms and being specific as to where someone should go for help and what they should ask for- an antidepressant,” Souza said.

    As a result, many consumers confuse the different clinical disorders, leading most to inaccurately self-diagnose depression and self-prescribe what they think they will need for their treatment. There is no evidence, Souza added, that shows pharmaceutical treatment alone is better for any disorders than when combined with psychological or other forms of therapy.

    Souza’s original thesis focused on college students who experience stress-related growth; positive and negative stresses that challenge students to build new social networks, study habits, routines, diets, etc.  These forms of transient stress can produce a variety of symptoms that direct-to-consumer advertising may have consolidated into one general category: depression.

    “Many clinical disorders are compressed down to one cure; ‘go to the doctor and ask for this [prescription].’ I’m not looking to determine whether this is right or wrong…I’m looking to see how people are making their decisions,” she said.

    Consumers may choose to avoid therapy because an antidepressant is expected to work.

    Souza’s study is designed to target the general public, but she hopes to bring her project specifically to the college level in the future.

    The study involves participants answering questions based on a variety of symptoms, tracking the correct placement of a symptom with a clinical or non-clinical disorder.  Souza said she hopes to discover how educated the public is on mood disorders, and, based on her findings, would like to launch a counter-educational program starting at the college level in hopes of correctly informing the public as to the most effective known treatments for their specific symptoms based on severity, combinations and duration.

    The study is proposed to be given online through a national health database in the United States.

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