Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Introduction: Depression is a common, yet serious, mood disorder that affects individuals regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, and/or educational level. While the literature on depression is plentiful, little has been done to address the impact of depression among social work students. This exploratory study sought the different mechanisms that MSW students with clinical depression used to coped with and balance, academic success and mental health while meeting the demands and rigor of their SSW MSW program. METHODS: Four students, who were clinically diagnosed with depression for at least six months, shared their personal experiences with depression and being simultaneously enrolled in the MSW program. Interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) interview method was used to gain insights into participant perspectives. Data were transcribed and analyzed using the iterative process associated with qualitative data analysis. RESULTS: Participants revealed that in order to succeed in the MSW program, they had to address their depression by (i) recognizing, identifying, and addressing their childhood triggers, (ii) finding healthy coping techniques to address their depression while also addressing previous negative behaviors, (iii) incorporating intentional decision making techniques to help them once they were enrolled in the MSW program, and (iv) incorporating behavior change techniques learned in their classes to help them deal with their depression. CONCLUSION: For these participants, understanding and addressing the genesis of their depression (i.e., ending of a relationship, social isolation, childhood trauma) provided opportunities to adequately balance and address their triggers while holistically engaging with academic demands. To effectively complete the program, they had to make intentional decisions regarding best practices that could be identified and used to help alleviate their own anxieties and apprehension regarding a graduate education. In addition, they had to be hypervigilant about their personal feelings regardless of their academic and/or personal expectations. This hypervigilance helped create a litmus test to recognize the onset of depressive bouts, got used as a technique to identify daily emotions, and served as a reminder to practice self-care. Ultimately, while there is no singular blueprint to ensure academic success, having clearly defined expectations within the academic setting (e.g. program expectations, studying for exams, course expectations, and personal responsibilities), helped to reduce stress, anxiety, and other unhealthy skills that may be related to their depressive symptoms and episodes.