Monday, February 6, 2012

Teen Depression

I was a depressed teen. I struggled with depression for most of my adolescence and early adulthood, but I couldn't have told you that at the time. I knew things were wrong with me, but I had no idea I was depressed until I'd told my mother how perversely pleased I was when things went badly in my life because I wanted "my outsides to match my insides" and she said whoa, honey, you're depressed!

One of the most pernicious aspects of depression is that it robs you of the ability to understand your own emotions and how they fit (or don't fit) into the context of your life.  Because we don't talk about depression in an open way in our society, especially with teenagers, it becomes even harder for depressed teens to identify that what they're experiencing is a problem and seek help. (Especially if they don't have mothers as awesome and informed as mine.)

And this is a huge problem, because teen depression is staggeringly common.

THE OFFICIAL STATS
  • 20% of teens will experience depression at some point.
  • 10-15% of teens are depressed at any given time.
  • Episodes of teen depression last an average of eight months, and most teens will suffer more than one.
  • 30% of teens with depression will develop a substance abuse problem.
  • Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide in teens, which is the third leading cause of teen death.
  • Less than 1/3 of teens with depression will receive help, although more than 80% could be successfully treated.
I surveyed our Teen Spies and Analysts about their experiences with teen depression and received replies from about half of them. They're not a representative slice of teen-dom (for one, they're all female, and the responders are obviously the ones with the most to say on the subject) so this isn't the most scientific of surveys, but I still think their answers are very illuminating.

OUR TEENS' STATS
  • 70% of our teens are suffering/have suffered from depression. At least 28% are currently on medication.
  • 100% of our teens have a friend or peer who's suffered from depression. Every. single. one.
  • None know of any specific programs or outreach that their school/community offers for teens with depression or other mental health issues.
  • All of our teens show a significant mistrust of adults on this subject. They don't trust adults to take their depression seriously and/or to help them get treatment. 

IN THEIR WORDS

What does/did your depression feel like?

Every day was a struggle. I hated myself, my friends, my family, the world, everything. I hated being weak. The illness is still there, but it's covered up. It's like a Band-Aid; it's clocked but the scarring is still there. 

Depression is like wearing sunglasses, or looking through a car window. Everything is so much darker, and even distorted. You can see the same thing as everyone else, but the world is gray-scale. It's lost its color.

When I’m depressed, I think of this huge shadow that follows you around day to day, teasing you, reminding you that there’s a big black hole that’s waiting for you to fall back into it. I’m struggling to understand why a lot of the time – sometimes for weeks and months – I don’t want to get out of bed and I hate people and I’m drowning in my own mind, because yeah, a lot of the times it feels like I’m just drowning in my own thoughts.

All the good in the world seems to disappear. Everyone else looks so happy, and all you feel is pain. You feel like no one even cares about you, and there's no one you can talk to. Even the happy moments hurt. You shut yourself down, lock away your emotions from everyone. Because no one cares. And if they do, they're going to leave you in the end. What's the point in feeling? 

Each morning I would wake up and say I just have to put a smile on my face, and no one would bother me. Rarely do people look past a smile. 

Sadness is a feeling. Depression is a way of life. You get over sadness. Sadness makes you cry. Depression stays with you, all day and all night, and won't let you release it. Depression is sadness times infinity, and it forces you to bottle it up, trying to make you explode. Sadness doesn't hurt so much you sometimes want to puke.

If you suspected a friend was depressed, what would you do?

If I suspected a friend was depressed, I would contact their parents immediately. Depression is a very serious illness and the sooner it is dealt with, the better.  

I would let them know that I was there to talk or listen whenever they needed a friend. I would NEVER push them to tell me anything. Smothering people with depression is the worst thing anyone can do. It makes them feel weaker than they probably already do and therefore causes more self-loathing. If it got really bad I would tell an adult that I trust.

Adults can make situations worse. Adults are a last-ditch effort. If there had been adult intervention with me, I wouldn't have been able to handle it. If I knew someone going through this now, I would do my best to help, by myself.

I might try and talk to one of his/her parents if it seemed like it would help. Or just try and do all I could to help that person feel better. Make sure he/she knows that I care about them, etc.

I would deal with it on my own. If I suspect a friend of being depressed I would do research on it and help them the best of my abilities. If I fear that they are only getting worse and the might do something they will later regret, I would go to an adult.

I’d like to say that I’d tell them to get help, but I know personally how difficult that is. I’d always be there for them when they’d need to talk, and I’d offer as much support as possible and help them find their way, but honestly, I’m not sure how to deal with something so big, even with myself.

Do you think it's harder for teens to get help than adults?

I think it's harder for them to SEEK help, honestly.  Most teens are so reluctant to believe that they could be suffering from depression, and so concerned of what others might think, that they don't actively pursue aid.  Plus, if you're an adult, you can seek help with no one the wiser; as a child, at the very least your parents need to be told about it.  

Yes, most certainly. Teens think that they are too strong and they are much too proud to ask for help. Adults however, know their limits and know when it has gone far enough to ask for help. I think that teens don't want to ask for help, so they don't.

I think it is. There's a stigma attached to depression. This makes it harder for a teen to say, I have this illness and I need it fixed.

Maybe, since in most cases the first step to getting help would be telling your parents.

I believe that the older you get, the harder it is for you to openly admit to yourself that you need help, that you don’t deserve to hurt. As a kid, when you’re injured, all you want is for it to get better – you ask your mom to kiss your bruises or you cry and cry until someone takes you to the doctor or hands you a few Tums and some soup.

I think it’s hard for teens especially because a lot of the times, adults think teens are being irrational or over-exaggerating.

It would make sense that is it harder for a teen to get help than an adult. Adults would assume
the teenager is just having hormonal issues and the sadness/depression will be gone soon.

Do you think teen depression is dismissed by adults as normal teen angst?

Yes, I think it is.  Adults are so used to teenagers being these creatures rules by hormones, one moment happy and the next moment sobbing their heart out.  They have a tendency to dismiss teenage action with words such as "they are teens, after all."  It takes them a while to realize when one is truly not just suffering from a momentary bout of sadness.  I've witnessed this with friends of mine.

YES!! I think that, that is the worst thing in the world to do to someone with depression. To undermine it. It's not just adults, either. Teens do it to each other, 'Oh, you'll get over it' or 'That's stupid' or 'Grow up' or 'Suck it up.'

Adults constantly underestimate what I feel, thinking I’m exaggerating or just being angst-ridden. In personal cases, when I’m hurt in some ways, adults around me sort of dismiss that until the problem “really” arises, until what I’m feeling/experiencing is something they can no longer dismiss because the facts are right in front of them.

How many of your peers do you think have experienced depression?

I only know of several, but there could be many more that I'm unaware of.  It's not something that people talk about openly.

Out of the people I call friends 15%. Out of all my acquaintances I would say 45-55%.

I remember this girl a grade older than me that stood in front of the whole cafeteria one day and openly admitted that she suffered from bipolar. She said that every 1 in 4 people experience some form of depression, and she asked us to turn to everyone we sat with and to just look at one another, see that we’ve all hurt and can be hurt. I looked at my friends – most of whom I’ve known forever – and the looks on their faces, the shocked and shaken looks scared me. I’d bet most of my peers have experienced depression.

SYMPTOMS AND RESOURCES

In the fourth grade, I didn't understand why I everyone could read the words on the black-board but me until I read in a textbook that not being able to see the black-board might mean I needed glasses. Likewise, my first hint that I had depression came when I read that one less well-known symptom of depression is indecisiveness, which explained why I would go so long without eating that I'd become lightheaded because I just couldn't decide between a sandwich and a salad.

So in that vein, here are some common symptoms of depression:

  • Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, or an inability to make decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities you once loved
  • Persistent aches or pains, especially headaches, stomachaches, and lower-back pain
  • Feelings of worthlessness, pessimism, extreme guilt, or emptiness
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Withdrawal from friends 
  • Rebelliousness or irresponsibility
Sadness is normal, but if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may be depressed and should seek help. 

If you're a teen, the best place to start is with your parents or a school counselor.

If you're uncomfortable talking to them or just want some more information first, trying nineline.org. You can email them or call them for free at 1-800-999-9999 (between 4:00pm-8:00pm EST everyday). They can either refer you to someone in your area who can help, or they can just talk to you.

If you need help immediately, please call the National Hopeline at 1-800-SUICIDE.

And you can always email me. I'm not a medical professional, but I've been where you are and am always available to answer questions or just to talk.












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