Young People Ask . . .
Why Do I Get So Depressed?
● MELANIE had always lived up to her mother’s ideal of the perfect child—until she turned seventeen. Then she withdrew from school activities, stopped accepting invitations to parties and didn’t even seem to care when her grades dropped from A’s to C’s. Her parents noted her sullen mood and at mealtimes would gently inquire what was wrong. Melanie would stomp away from the table, saying, “Leave me alone! There’s nothing wrong.”
● Mark, at fourteen, was impulsive and hostile, with an explosive temper. At school he was fidgety and disruptive. When frustrated or angry, he would race across the desert on a motorcycle or shoot down steep hills on his skateboard. His parents and teachers dismissed his rambunctious behavior as childishness.
You may be surprised to know that both Melanie and Mark suffered from depression. While widespread depression among adults is common knowledge, only recently have experts conceded that young people, too, get depressed. It can happen to you.
A Common Emotion
A survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health claims that about one out of every five youths may be suffering from the symptoms of depression. Youthful suicides in many nations have been described as a recent epidemic. Depression is the most common ingredient in juvenile suicides. Perhaps you know of some of your friends who got the blues and attempted to take their own life. But you probably do not need statistics to know that depression can touch your life. Why, almost everyone is struck with the blues at times for a few hours, days—or even weeks. This is just a part of life. However, during their teen years many youths are especially prone to the blues. Why?
These years are probably some of the most difficult you’ll ever have to cope with. The internal pressures created by reaching puberty can bring great anxieties and mood swings. You find yourself caught in a transition period—no longer a child but not quite an adult. Beset with new and often conflicting expectations from your parents, teachers or friends, you feel like a failure when at times you cannot measure up. To make matters worse, because of inexperience you are unfamiliar with life’s ups and downs. No wonder that some get painfully depressed.
Are My Blues Normal?
There are, nevertheless, different degrees of depression. A young person could be demoralized by some upsetting event: failing a school test, the death of a loved one, not getting a job or losing one, as well as other stressful situations. Usually, with changing circumstances, these blues fade in a relatively short time.
However, if the depressed mood lingers and the person has a general negative feeling along with feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and anger, this can develop into low-grade chronic depression. The symptoms vary considerably. One young person may have anxiety attacks. Another may be tired all the time, have no appetite, experience trouble in sleeping or may lose weight. Sometimes even a series of accidents may be a warning. Note the box on page 23. If you answer “Yes” to most of the questions, chances are that your depression has become chronic. Recognizing this type of depression is vital for, if it is not dealt with, it will progress to major depression, a serious disorder that usually requires professional help.*
Some young persons mask depression by totally different behavior: by an endless round of parties, by sexual promiscuity, by vandalism or by heavy drinking. “I don’t really know why I have to be going out all the time,” confessed one fourteen-year-old boy. “I just know if I’m by myself, alone, I realize how bad I feel.” It is just as the Bible described: “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain; and grief is what rejoicing ends up in.” (Proverbs 14:13) So a pleasure binge may indicate that a person has real problems.
Is There a Physical Problem?
Marie had just started college and found herself in an emotional tailspin during the first few months. She had trouble in sleeping. She lost interest in food, in her studies and in her friends. Fortunately, a discerning college counselor referred her to a physician for a medical checkup. The cause of her problem? Iron-deficiency anemia. With proper treatment her spirits rose and her energy returned.
Yes, there is at times a biological basis for depression. Infections, glandular or hormonal disorders, malignancies, hypoglycemia and blood problems—these can all trigger depression. Are you a junk-food addict? Deficiencies caused by such an unbalanced diet can cause depression. So can certain medications or allergic reactions.
However, usually juvenile depression can be traced to another cause.
“I Have Never Done Anything Right”
Donald felt that he had to excel in school to be regarded as worth while. His parents were scientists and he felt that they expected much from him. However, his girl friend accepted him regardless of his mediocre academic achievements. But then their relationship became punctuated by quarrels. He became depressed and suicidal. “I have never done anything right. I have always let everybody down,” bemoaned Donald to a therapist.
That a sense of failure can kindle depression is evident from the case of a Bible character named Epaphroditus. During the first century this faithful Christian was sent by his home congregation on a special mission to assist the imprisoned apostle Paul. But when he reached Paul he soon fell sick and Paul ended up caring for him. The Bible says that after his recovery Epaphroditus became “depressed” because the congregation had heard of his illness. You can imagine how he felt: ‘I’ve been a real failure! They were all counting on me and I fizzled out.’ Apparently he overlooked all the good he performed before he got sick. A similar sense of failure can make you depressed.—Philippians 2:25-30.
Additionally, the type of entertainment you choose can affect how you view disappointments and may enhance feelings of failure. Discover magazine cites psychotherapist Margery Fridstein, who in Chicago’s juvenile “suicide belt” has treated many depressed young persons. According to her, television dramas, with swift, superficial and happy endings, are a disservice to young people. She stated: “Kids don’t like to read books—they’d rather watch television and see the story end quickly—and so they don’t know how to deal with long-term frustration. They don’t have the built-in patience, when something bad happens all of a sudden, to tolerate it.” By expecting problems to be solved easily or by comparing yourself to a carefree TV character who “never gets depressed,” you can create feelings of inadequacy. Also, movies, TV programs and literature that highlight depressing themes will often create within you a similar mood.
So there are many things that can bring the blues. You could probably list more, such as not having a close friend and feeling that no one cares, excessive guilt about some personal weakness, the breakup of an intimate relationship, even the teasing from schoolmates. Knowing the causes can be helpful when you feel down, because you can analyze what could be wrong. Yet, as helpful as all of this is, the matter of real concern to you is, ‘What positive steps can I take to offset a depressed mood?’ Some suggestions that have proved effective will be discussed in a future issue of Awake!
See the article “Attacking Major Depression—Professional Treatments” in the Awake! of October 22, 1981.
[Box on page 23]
Is It Low-Grade Chronic Depression?
1. As a young person are you tired most of the time even when you have had enough sleep?
2. Are you constantly restless?
3. Have you lost interest in almost everything—in school, in family and in friends?
4. Are you unable to make decisions, even relatively minor ones?
5. Are you continually angry or resentful?
6. Do you have many bouts of anxiety, feeling that something terrible is going to happen?
7. Are you a chronic complainer?
8. Are you self-destructive?
9. Are you overly critical of yourself, often feeling very inferior or inadequate?
10. Do you spend an unusually large amount of time daydreaming?
11. Do you constantly have “up weeks” and “down weeks” with large mood swings?
(Based partially on The Book of Hope by Helen DeRosis and Victoria Pellegrino.)