adolescent depression

7th grade photo

I remember it like it was yesterday, which is a feat because I don’t remember anything from all my ECT treatments. I was in the nurse’s office having left my 7th grade computer class. The nurse, who had seen me several times that month, called my mom from her office. I couldn’t hear everything but I did catch this, “Your daughter is in the nurse’s office again. I believe she has school phobia.” Little did I know that was the first “diagnosis” I would receive in the years to come. And there have been many.

The 7th grade was a difficult one for me and looking back I can see the first signs of an anxiety disorder and depression – extreme sadness, intrusive thoughts, and of course, anxiety. I thought it was normal to feel that way so I never thought to tell anyone about these symptoms. I can remember being scared, and it is scary to experience those thoughts and emotions, especially at the age of 12 or 13. My anxiety included being worried about dying, scared my family would die and I got nervous and agitated about school, fretting about projects due, homework and tests. Some of that is normal but what I remember is the sense of dread that went along with it. Every Sunday night (read my Sunday Night blues blog here) I would get anxious and my stomach would hurt. On top of that, I developed a phobia of thunderstorms. I began obsessively watching The Weather Channel, checking the radar and barometric pressure for signs of storms even when it was nothing but blue skies outside. When the weather did get bad I would experience more stomachaches and stress.

I also remember intrusive thoughts interrupting my daily life. I constantly prayed to God that my family or I would not die because my brain was telling me it was going to happen. There were milder thoughts like, “You’re a loser. Nobody likes you.” Thoughts that still plague me, even at 36 years old.

A lot still plagues me, including intrusive thoughts, anxiety and depression (I was diagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder in my 30s). Even though it’s been more than 20 years, I still battle all of this every day. I might not be depressed every minute of every day, but it is a fight. Sometimes, a very hard fight. I still feel like that little girl, worried and anxious, trying to quell her thoughts. Only now I’ve traded little girl worries for big girl worries but at least I have support and a treatment plan.

It saddens me when I think of the kids struggling now – the ones who can’t verbalize their pain. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 3.2 million 12- to 17-year-olds have had at least one major depressive episode (A depressive episode is characterized by low mood and other symptoms of depression that lasts for two weeks or more. Some episodes can last weeks to months). NIMH also says that depression in teens is on the rise.

If I could go back and tell myself it would be ok, that it would get better, I would in a heartbeat. More importantly, I would tell myself to come clean to my parents about the anxiety and dark emotions I was feeling so I could receive the help I needed.

It is my hope by blogging about my experience others will realize this can happen to anyone, at any time. I had a wonderful childhood and amazing, supportive parents. I always felt I had everything that I needed. Still, depression struck. It doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t care who you are and apparently, it doesn’t care how old you are either. Such a cruel disease.

That’s why support from family and friends is so important, especially for kids and young adults. If one of your loved ones is struggling, please reach out. Do research about depression and anxiety and educate others who might still buy into the stigma surrounding depression.

Here are some things to look for when it comes to adolescent depression:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Abnormal sleeping habits
  • Isolation, especially from adults and family members
  • Low energy

Something to note about depression in teens is that symptoms vary by age but also by gender. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, girls report feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, punishment, tiredness, low energy, where as boys report irritability, depression and suicidal thoughts.

According to the CDC, only 20% of youth suffering from a mental health disorder receive treatment. That means 80% or 12 million youth are undertreated or not treated at all.

There are more alarming stats but I’m going to stop here for now. I know all the aforementioned symptoms may sound like “normal” teenage behavior but hopefully this blog and the studies I mentioned earlier will give you insight into teen depression and encourage you to support a loved one if you see them flailing.

Depression is difficult and ravaging for adults, let alone kids and teenagers. Let’s focus on supporting and taking care of each other. Thanks for reading.

Stay in the light.

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