What It's Like to be a Teenager with Depression
It's thirty years ago, but I can still remember in painful detail what it was like to be a teenager with depression. I felt lost all the time. I dragged myself through weekdays and evenings, and weekends I spent as much time as possible in some form of escapism, mainly reading and television. When I filled out applications for college I had virtually nothing to put down for activities outside school.
This was in the 1970s. Depression was something no one talked about for either children or adults, and the medical community didn't even realize that children could have clinical depression. Although the situation has improved in terms of our understanding of depression and how it affects children and young adults, teenagers still face a perception problem. Because of the hormone fluctuation that occurs during teenage years, teenagers are often assumed by adults to be "moody." That's as may be, but clinical depression is not the same thing as the emotional shifts that your development produces.
Depression symptom lists can be fairly dry and hard to relate to, so I've put together a more accessible list of symptoms:
- You're tired all the time.
- You're sad all the time.
- You cry a lot.
- You don't feel like spending time with family and friends anymore.
- You spend a lot of time in your room.
- Your grades have dropped.
- You may have quit doing activities that you used to enjoy.
- You have difficulty concentrating.
- You're thinking about death and suicide a lot.
More often than not, these are all things that are new to you - there's been a change in how you feel and act. But if you've been depressed for a long time, it may be hard for you to know what is good mental health and what isn't. But chances are that you have a sense that something's wrong. Even though I had been depressed from a very young age and didn't know anything different, I did have a nagging feeling that something was wrong with me. Being diagnosed was actually a big relief.
Should You Tell Your Friends?
I could be simplistic and flip and say that a good way to tell who your real friends are is to tell them you're depressed. In a sense, that's true. But to be fair, some people don't react well to disclosures like this not because they don't care, but because they're not used to dealing with the situation. Some people take time to come around. Their first reaction might be withdrawal, but ultimately they may reach out to you and be supportive.
Should You Tell Your Parents?
Basically, if you want to get professional help (which you do, trust me), you have to tell them. I don't want to sound negative about the prospect. Chances are that your parents have your best interests at heart, but it's also possible that your parents have problems of their own like addiction or depression, ones that very likely are a contributing factor in your own depression.
A government report released recently showed that even though nearly 1 in 10 American teenagers have had at least one bout of major depression in the past year, only about 39 percent received treatment. That's pretty scary to me, and sad. For every teen, the situation's different, but I think it probably boils down to a couple of factors. One is the reluctance of some parents to accept that anything is wrong with their child. Another could be, as I mentioned above, that your parents could be absorbed in their own problems. If the problem is the former, you probably just need to talk to your parents and make them understand that this is a medical problem that requires treatment. If your parents fall into the latter category, you might want to find an adult advocate to help you - a school counselor, pastor, family friend or relative. This person can either take charge of the situation themselves or intervene with your parents to get you professional help.
Please get help for your depression. Depression rarely goes away on its own, and you don't want to lose years to it like I did.