Suffering from depression A significant number of young people suffer from depression and yet many are still left to deal with the experience alone, in silence and in fear. One in 10 teenagers suffer from depression. That adds up to a lot of young people in distress. Often
It feels awful because no-one understands how you feel
suffering in silence, isolated and afraid, they begin to doubt their life, even to the point of harming themselves.
"It's when I started feeling really angry at everything, the fact that I kept thinking about death a lot and that I wanted to kill myself a lot as well. It got really that bad".
That's teenager, Ryan, describing the start of his depression at the shockingly young age of eleven. What could drive a person so young to such dark thoughts? And why on earth didn't his parents notice something was wrong right away and help him?
They are questions we might all ask but the answers are not so clear-cut. There's nothing simple about depression and no two people are alike in their experience of it. While you might expect Ryan's parents to have known straight away that there was something seriously wrong, he says they were in fact shocked when they found out he was had serious depression.
"They really had no idea because of the fact that I never talked to them. I just used to lock myself up in my room and be in my own world."
Well teenagers the world over shut themselves off from their parents - it's a common stage of adolescent development. So how do we know when it's not just a teenage mood?
According to Susan McGinnis, a Senior Counsellor at the University of Strathclyde Counselling Unit, Counselling in Schools Project, in Glasgow, "While a loss of interest in usual activities, loss of motivation and feelings of pointlessness can be evidence of a bad mood, depression is characterised by persistent, long-term and significant change."
This complex disease steals many of the joys of youth, at least temporarily. Friendships and fitting in, which are usually so important to young people, often give way to isolation and fear.
Nicole, now a 27-year-old student happily studying for her Media BA, remembers all too well how her world went grey at the vulnerable age of 12, "I wouldn't want to do anything. The thing with depression is that it isn't feeling actually angry or happy obviously. It just kind of drains every emotion you have out of your body so you just can't be bothered with anything at all. I didn't talk to any of my friends. I couldn't stop crying. I didn't want to eat."
Nor did she get any sympathy, or recognition that she was really ill: "My parents thought that I was just trying to not go to school and my teachers thought I was being lazy and my friends thought I was being moody. It was only like four years later when I got referred to a psychiatrist that they realised there was something the matter."
This lack of prompt attention made a bad situation even worse, "I thought I was going mad because I didn't know what was going on and I was really scared and so I had to pretend that everything was okay but inside I was absolutely dying and I got very thin and I was anorexic."
The fear, misunderstanding and sense of being alone described by Nicole are all things Ryan has also experienced. When asked how his depression feels, Ryan replied: "It feels awful because no one, like adults, understand how you feel. They say things like 'you're young and you can get over it."
Ryan does have friends and they are aware of his depression but the situation is not a totally comfortable one. He feels his friends do not treat him the same as they do each other: "They're more inclined to go easy on me than they do on each other. With depression you find it hard to trust in people."
Ryan talks a lot about trust and how having a lack of trust in people just makes it even more difficult getting help: "At the moment, I'm suffering in silence basically. But hopefully I will find someone. Trust has to be felt in relationships with friendship and companionship. Trust takes time to build."
When he was first diagnosed, Ryan was relieved that he was getting some help: "The doctor prescribed anti-depressants, mainly Prozac. The main purpose of the Prozac is to calm me down and try to level out my serotonin, the chemicals in the brain, which control how I'm feeling.
"But what does calm me down is just sitting down and talking with people even if it's just about anything. Really it's just to be in the company of another person that helps calm me down."
The area of prescribing drugs for young people with depression is a controversial one. In December of 2003, doctors were told by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) not to prescribe any antidepressants to children, with the exception of Prozac.
Susan McGinnis says: "I think there is a misconception about what antidepressants can do, and that they are a magical 'happy pill'. They can even-out moods, and perhaps raise a very low mood enough to allow a young person to begin to engage in other approaches that might be helpful, such as counselling, family therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as enabling them to enjoy and receive the benefit of the close relationships they already have."
What could be the cause of so much misery in people so young and full of life? Is it just an imbalance in brain chemistry, or is it more?
According to Susan McGinnis, "Statistics show that there is an increase in mental health problems in young people over the past ten years…it might be attributed to different values, such as a more achievement-oriented culture, a decline in spiritual belief and a change in social structures, like less close-knit communities, fewer extended family relationships.
"In my experience, many cases of depression in young people are family related - either due to poor relationships between family members or family breakdown. Abuse of any kind can also result in depression, and that includes bullying."
Educating people, and not just young people, would seem to be an important first step in stopping young people who are depressed suffering in silence. Ryan
and Nicole both said they definitely saw the need for this. They also both spoke about feeling as though they were treated differently and Nicole reckons there is still a stigma attached to the word 'depression'.
"I don't think there are enough resources to help depressed young people. Half the battle would be to 'normalise' the connotations attached to the term so that depression is not categorised as 'shirking' or 'mental'. I would imagine that this ideology could be filtered down through schools, with possibly school counsellors available for any child to go and talk to about how they feel," says Nicole.
Depression can, and does, get better and many people will experience it at some point in their lives. Getting through it can give young people confidence in themselves and a new level of awareness of their own strength and resilience.
Ryan has not yet reached this level but he's working on it. He still experiences many ups and downs. Sometimes he feels, "I don't think I'll ever recover. No, I don't think I'll ever gain the strength to recover."
Other times he is much more optimistic, "What I actually need is more time to help me come to myself and to try and find what my true purpose really is. Like I said earlier, I was suicidal for a while before I actually went to see the doctor. Being with people, like I said, calms me down. I love that."
About the team
This story was produced by Nestor Sayo, 13, Kamal Akerbousse, 13 and Chinwe Izamoje, 12. It was published by Reach for the Sky website.
As somebody who has experienced depression before in my life, I have felt that medications can do little to find a long-term solution for the disease. The reason behind this is that medications do not address the underlying problem that is causing depression. What they basically do is that, they suppress the symptoms of depression and leaves the root cause of it untouched. And, as a result of this recurrences of depression occur in your life. Actually, recurrences are inevitable.
Natural ways to treat depression such as physiotherapy, yoga and meditation can not only help you overcome depression, but will provide a long-term solution to the problem This will allow you to say good bye to depression once and forever. Thanks. Hari from India, 24 November 2008 13:22
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