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Professional News
Reality Series Reveals Real-World Depression
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 11 page 12-12

What’s so real about throwing a group of six above-average-looking 20-somethings into million-dollar dwellings and filming them as they interact?

Depression is real, according to one former star of the MTV hit reality series, "Real World Chicago," who revealed her years-long battle with depression to her housemates in front of millions of viewers in 2002.

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Cara Kahn: "I want college students to understand that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated successfully, and there is life beyond depression."

Now that the cameras are no longer rolling, "Real World Chicago" star Cara Kahn, 23, speaks to college audiences about her experiences with depression and recovery as part of a 10-stop college tour, "Depression in College: Real World, Real Life, Real Issues."

The tour is part of Wyeth Pharmaceutical’s depression education campaign, Go On and Live (GOAL!). The National Mental Health Association is one of Wyeth’s partners in the campaign.

Kahn spoke with Psychiatric News just prior to addressing college students at the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs in April: "I want college students to understand that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated successfully, and there is life beyond depression."

She said that there is no mention of Wyeth during the seminar, nor is the name of the pharmaceutical company or its products displayed on promotional materials or banners.

Kahn recalled that after her on-air revelation about taking medication for depression, mail began pouring in from young viewers who either experienced depression themselves or had a friend or family member with the disorder.

"When I wrote back," Kahn said, "I preached a message I was simultaneously preaching to myself—that depression is nothing to be embarrassed about, and life goes on after depression."

Years before starring in "Real World Chicago," Kahn said she first experienced depression as a high school student. At the time, she had feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, and sadness, despite the fact that she had good grades, a loving family, and an active social life. She also had difficulty sleeping.

Fortunately, her mother brought her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with depression and began treatment. However, Kahn said she had a hard time finding the right medication. "The ones I tried weren’t a perfect fit," she said. "It is a real commitment to find what works for you."

But committed she was, and Kahn eventually found a treatment regimen that helped her to enjoy life again by the time she was in college.

"Treatment has made a big difference for me," said Kahn. "I want college students to understand that they have treatment options and that they don’t have to be alone."

Kahn said she believes stigma is the most formidable barrier for college students with depression. Men are particularly vulnerable to stigma and are often reluctant to seek help.

At each college stop, Kahn appears with local mental health experts who help college students recognize the signs of depression and discuss treatment with them.

Lola Robins, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut Counseling and Mental Health Service, appeared with Kahn to reassure students that help for depression is available. "It’s helpful to have counseling services right here on campus," she said.

A major problem for young adults, Robins said, is that they may have symptoms of depression but don’t realize the symptoms are part of a relatively common disorder. Undiagnosed depression leads to other problems, she explained. Many college students try to erase the symptoms of depression with drugs and alcohol, which only worsen the depression.

Carissa Salzberg, director of Adult Community Programs at the Mental Health Association of Connecticut, was also on hand to provide a list of community mental health resources to students.

More information about the Go On and Live campaign can be found on the Web at www.goonandlive.com.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Cara Kahn: "I want college students to understand that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated successfully, and there is life beyond depression."

Now that the cameras are no longer rolling, "Real World Chicago" star Cara Kahn, 23, speaks to college audiences about her experiences with depression and recovery as part of a 10-stop college tour, "Depression in College: Real World, Real Life, Real Issues."

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