Can Writing Help Students with Depression?

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A number of things contribute to depression in students. Particularly at the college level, lack of sleep, exercise and healthy eating can all contribute. Add to these the stress that comes from academic life – assignments, money issues, relationships, etc. – and it is easy to see why students suffer from depression.

The Risks of Untreated Depression

Students suffering from depression are a greater risk for substance abuse, other risky behaviours, and suicide. In America, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, aged 15-34, and depression is a major contributing factor.

Treatments for Depression

Treatments usually combinations of medication and therapy. And sometimes, a part of that therapy may include writing.

Why Writing?

First, let’s qualify what is meant by therapeutic writing.

Students do all types of writing in college. There are essay and paper assignments in virtually every course they take. And, in fact, becoming overwhelmed with the number of coursework assignments can be a factor in creating anxiety. Some students cope by seeking out academic writing services that provide all sorts of help for students who struggle with assignments, including tips for streamlining coursework completion.

Therapeutic writing is a wholly different exercise.

Many students keep journals while in school. These provide an outlet for expressing their joys, concerns, frustrations, and anxieties. In many ways, this can be a cathartic activity, allowing a student to “get it out” and then feel better.

But for a student who is truly depressed, this journaling can be a very negative experience. It serves to reinforce the negativity. If they are feeling miserable and write that misery all down, there it is on paper for them to reinforce that misery by re-reading it. Doing this is neither therapeutic nor helpful.

What Exactly is Therapeutic Writing?

Think of it this way. A journal is a type of personal narrative. Students who have a rather normal emotional makeup use journals to record a variety of feelings and emotions, some happy, some not so much. But the writing reflects a normal variety. This is not what depressed students do – their writing is all negative.

And so, that personal narrative must be changed. And it can be changed by altering the topics for writing.

This is not an easy process, and it comes in small steps. But the process, if adhered to steadfastly, can help in making mood changes.

  1. Begin by writing down anything. It may be all negative, but that is okay for now.
  2. Once you have finished your writing, go back, sentence by sentence, and look at the words. Is this how you want to be?
  3. Start changing the negative words into positive ones. Instead of, “I feel worthless,” revise the sentence to “I want to feel worthy.” Instead of, “I am unhealthy,” re-write, “I want to be healthy.”
  4. While this is certainly not a cure-all for depression, it is a start in changing your patterns of thinking.
  5. The next step is to take those more positive messages, one by one. Each day, take one of those more positive statements and begin to write what you can do to get to that point. So, “I want to feel worthy” will not be the topic, “What would make me feel worthy?” Answering that question can ultimately define a path of action. So, “I want to be healthy” becomes “What can I do to get healthy?” and the answer to that question will probably include some actions that can be taken.

You may not feel like taking any action at that point, but you have at least identified positive actions that can take place at some point.

Other Types of Writing That Can Be Therapeutic

A journal is not the only type of writing that can provide therapy. Here are a few others.

  1. Images from Childhood

Identify happy images from your childhood. List the things that made the experience or situation pleasant. Once that list is complete, try writing a poem about that image. Poetry may not come easily at first, but there are plenty of sources that provide tips for writing poetry and examples. The great thing about poetry is that there are no real “rules,” and emotions can be portrayed in many ways. If you are most uncomfortable with poetry, you can take that childhood image and ask a writer to create a poem for you. There are websites that provide the best paper writing service reviews, and these can be accessed to find someone to help with a poem.

  1. Write Letters

Letters can be cathartic. Often, depressed students have had unresolved issues with loved ones, friends, or former lovers. These issues can be factors that contribute to depression. The letter is not meant to be sent – rather, it is a means of gaining a better understanding of one’s thoughts or feelings. And once that understanding is clear, those thoughts or feelings can be analyzed and resolved.

The Takeaway

No one would probably claim that writing is a full “cure” for depression. There are many treatments, in combination, that will work to mitigate the symptoms and put students on a path toward much great mental health.

But writing can be an important factor in reducing depression, and it should be explored by students who suffer from this debilitating illness.

Author Bio: Daniela McVicker is the editor of Educate Tips, a site that focuses on ideas, tips, and information about all things educational. She has an abiding interest in providing resources for students as they tackle writing assignments. When not editing, Daniela is usually found playing gigs with her rhythm and blues band, where she is the keyboard player.

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