Depression affects students of all academic levels, social positions and economic statuses.
Depression in children and teenagers has devastating impact on the crucial stages of social, emotional and cognitive development, with far-reaching and negative impact on these young lives.
One in five young people have some sort of mental health condition; one in eight has a serious depression.
Despite these daunting statistics, a mere 30% of these students receive any sort of intervention or treatment. The other 70% simply struggle through the pain, doing their best to make it to adulthood. If this were the case with child and adolescent cancer there would be an outcry from the public.
I know these statistics well. I know that educators have a unique opportunity to recognize and support students struggling with depression yet often are either unaware or simply aren’t sure of the severity or need for intervention and therefore do nothing. Parents may well be in the same camp. Is it “teenage angst”? Growing pains? Typical of a child who may be in the middle of a family crisis? A young person having problems with friends, feeling left out or deserted?
My daughter’s depression snuck into her life during her high school years (if not before) and even though I was teaching about depression to graduate level students, I did not recognize it for what it was: severe, life changing, and needing intense treatment. Yes, I knew she was anxious and sad and confused about her friends and their own issues. I knew she worried about where and what life would hold after she graduated from high school.
I was concerned enough to talk her into seeing a psychiatrist and therapist. Both diagnosed her with depression. The very words “clinical depression” startled me. She was still getting high grades in college preparatory course, participating and excelling in piano and voice as a young musician and keeping up with her friends and activities. She spent a few months taking an anti-depressant and then, unbeknownst to me, dumped the remainders down the toilet. We spent hours talking and she cried and she said she felt better and then she worried and then she thanked me for listening to her. We all assumed it was “situational”. Whatever the cause, it was depression.
I have had a unique opportunity to reflect on this as I was working my way through the final edits of the book that I wrote with my daughter, Linea. Her work is “real time” journals written in the midst of her depressions. As I read her words and mine I thought about what I should have done differently and eventually thought about what I did well, from a mother’s perspective, not a professional’s.
There were a couple of things I would have done differently but they are both big ones.
I assumed she knew that if she did not like the first therapist she saw she could go to another one. She didn’t know this. And if she did it would have been very difficult for her to change therapists or doctors without a lot of support from me. She didn’t know she could, she didn’t know how and she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
I would have been much more cautious about her depression and encouraged (harassed? forced?) her to continue under a doctor’s treatment for much, much longer. As she says now, “Everyone benefits from a therapist!”
I think I did a couple of things right and Linea certainly contributed and taught me many things during our journey. We had and continue to have a very honest relationship. I know she didn’t tell me everything and it was only after reading her journals that I knew how severely depressed she was but she did talk to me about her worries and fears. I tried to never be judgmental or shocked by anything she told me or anything I read. I always trusted her to do the best she could and I always believed in her fierce desire to be well but I eventually realized that the depression was way beyond what she was able to handle on her own. It just took me too long.
My knowledge and understanding of the research and treatments for depression have shifted due to my personal experiences as a mother as well as a daughter of beautiful and strong women who battle depression. Depression is a brain disorder. Yes, there is situational depression but this, too, can turn into a depression that changes the thinking process, messes with memory, pushes away friends and family, causes physical symptoms and, as my mother says, is “more painful than any physical pain” she has ever experienced. And she has experienced much physical pain in her lifetime. I spent too much time trying to manage and “fix” the environment around Linea rather than helping her find the treatment to fix the illness going on in her brain.
I am thrilled with the Balanced Mind’s new partnership with Erika’s Lighthouse. I am moved and inspired by the voices of the young people featured on the videos. I encourage all of you to share with others and take full advantage of the webinars, resources and materials available about depression. Let’s make sure that our young people who have depression receive treatment and that everyone knows the symptoms and where to seek treatment for depression. Depression is treatable. Untreated depression is deadly.
Posted on The Balanced Mind blog.