Young People Ask . . .
What if It’s More Than Just the Blues?
VIVIENNE and Marie never knew each other, but each knew the meaning of despair. Both 14 years old, they had totally different backgrounds. Vivienne—a “perfect” young lady with caring parents. Marie—at times a raging terror, her fury fed by bickering parents who eventually were divorced. But both girls fought a life-or-death struggle with a disorder said to cause “more suffering than any other disease”—severe depression.
Before learning the outcome of their struggle, you need to understand the dramatic difference between the everyday blues and major depression, the disorder that has “killed” thousands of young people earth wide and has made millions of others wish they were dead.
You probably have had “down” days—everyone does. Sometimes one may even go through what doctors may call chronic low-grade depression.* But major depression is different. “I constantly felt as if I were ‘dead’ inside,” explained Marie. “I was just existing without any emotions. I had a feeling of constant dread.” Vivienne similarly described her “no escape” situation in a letter to a friend: ‘The funny thing is that even after crying, the pressure is there afterward, all the time; it doesn’t really matter what I do. It’s strange living with no relief for so long.’
Yes, the gloomy mood is unrelenting. And this may continue for months. See the box in this article for some of the symptoms—both emotional and physical. It should not surprise you to know that this type of depression is the most common ingredient in youthful suicides—now considered a “hidden epidemic” in many countries. In the United States only accidents and homicide take more young lives.
Francine Klagsbrun wrote in her book Too Young To Die—Youth and Suicide: “At the root of many emotionally caused depressions lies a profound sense of loss, of someone or something that has been deeply loved.” Thus the loss of a parent through death or divorce, the loss of a job or career, or even of one’s physical health, could be at the root of depression.
A most poignant loss to a young person is the loss of love, the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for. “When my mother left us I felt betrayed and alone,” revealed Marie. “My world suddenly seemed upside down.” A therapist recognized Vivienne’s emotional hurt and asked: “What would you like from the family?” Her terse reply: “Understanding.”
You can just imagine the bewilderment and pain some youths feel when faced with awesome family problems such as divorce, alcoholism, incest, wife beating, child abuse or simple rejection by a parent who is swallowed up in his or her own problems. To the child, it is a “day of distress.” How true the Bible proverb: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty”! (Proverbs 24:10) Yes, the power to offset depression becomes very small, especially since the young person may even blame himself for the unfortunate conditions.
“How Can You Kill Nothing?”
“I am worthless. I am of no use to anyone,” wrote Vivienne. “What good [is it] to kill myself? How can you kill nothing?” Why did she feel that way? She confessed to her diary: “I have the constant feeling that I’m big and clumsy and sort of dense beside someone [a friend] who is small, precise, brilliant and absolutely perfect.” The advertising and entertainment media encourage destructive comparisons by glorifying physical attractiveness, sexuality and academic achievements.
Also, one’s own weaknesses add to feelings of low self-esteem. You may do something that you know is wrong and feel as did King David of ancient Israel, who bemoaned: “There is no peace in my bones on account of my sin. For my own errors have passed over my head; like a heavy load they are too heavy for me. . . . All day long I have walked about sad.” (Psalm 38:3-6) Frankly, such a remorseful attitude is commendable. It shows that you haven’t become calloused to right standards. Yet, if you change your course, God will freely forgive.
However, some try to cover over feelings of guilt or worthlessness by running away from home, practicing sexual promiscuity or engaging in heavy drinking. Marie resorted to injecting herself with heroin. She said: “I had plenty of self-confidence—until the drug wore off.” And when it did, she was faced with extreme . . .
The most persistent emotion connected with major depression—and the deadliest—is a deep sense of hopelessness. Vivienne could not fight any longer. In despair this 14-year-old hanged herself! Writing in Vivienne—The Life and Suicide of an Adolescent Girl, Professor John E. Mack observed: “Vivienne’s inability to foresee that her depression would ever lift, that she had any hope of ultimately obtaining relief from her pain, is an important element in her decision to kill herself.”
Those affected with major depression feel as if they will never get better, that there is no tomorrow. It is the hopelessness that, according to experts, often leads to suicidal behavior. Yet Marie, whose life had become a living nightmare, eventually found something that helped pull her shattered existence together.
You Will Get Over It!
“The thoughts of suicide definitely came into my mind,” confessed Marie. “But I realized that as long as I didn’t kill myself there was always hope.” Her hope had been somewhat nurtured by Bible instruction she had received as a child. Sadly, she failed to follow such teaching as a way of life. Nevertheless, she knew that God was willing to help her if she sincerely turned to him. So she saw alternatives to a bleak situation.
Unfortunately, when confronted with despair many young persons cannot even visualize alternatives or the possibility of a favorable outcome. So what can help you to keep your hope up?
Talk to Someone About It
“Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” (Proverbs 12:25) A “good word” from an understanding person can make all the difference in the world. No human can read your heart, so pour it out to someone you trust and who can help straighten out your thoughts.
‘But I’ve already tried that,’ you may say, ‘and all I get is a look-on-the-bright-side-of-life lecture.’ True, not everyone is a skillful counselor. The Bible says: “When there is no skillful direction, the people fall; but there is salvation in the multitude of counselors.” (Proverbs 11:14) So don’t give up because of an inept counselor. Seek out a skilled one. How?
Marie, in one of her bleakest moments, poured out her heart to God. “I begged him to please send someone to help me,” admitted Marie. “As I approached Jehovah I could feel a calmness setting in. I knew there was still hope.” Her fervent prayer was answered as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by her house that day. A study of the Bible was started. She began to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There she met many skillful counselors who were more than willing to help.
Even if your prayers for help are not answered in just this way, God can give you the strength to endure. The Bible says: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear . . . He will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” However, effort on your part is needed.—1 Corinthians 10:13.
“Over the years I had put up such a pretext that no one really knew how depressed I was,” revealed Marie. “But then I confided in one of the older women in the congregation. She was so understanding! She had gone through some of the same experiences I had. So I was encouraged to realize that other people have gone through things like this and have come out just fine.”
No, Marie’s depression did not clear up immediately. But gradually she began to cope with her emotions as she deepened her relationship with God through her study of the Bible and association with fellow Christians.
Vivienne apparently had no such faith. “I really want to believe in something, but like many others, I don’t know what,” she bemoaned before her death. “I never could pray. You can tell when a prayer doesn’t get through.”
Don’t make the same mistake. If you are severely depressed, pray to God. Seek out skillful counselors and bare your feelings. Let their “good word” lift your spirits. Jehovah’s Witnesses are especially willing to help you. Let them assist you in developing a friendship with God so that you may sense the realization of this heartwarming promise: “The peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:7.
See “Why Do I Get So Depressed?” in the August 22, 1982, Awake!
[Blurb on page 12]
Severe depression is the most common ingredient in youthful suicides, which have become an epidemic in some countries
[Blurb on page 15]
A personal friendship with God can help you to cope with major depression
[Box on page 13]
Could It Be Major Depression?
Anyone may suffer temporarily from one or more of the following symptoms without having a serious problem. However, if several symptoms persist, or if any is severe enough that it interferes with your normal activities, you may have (1) a physical illness and need a thorough examination by a doctor or (2) a serious mental disorder—major depression.
● Nothing Gives You Pleasure. You can’t find pleasure in activities once enjoyed. You feel unreal, as if in a fog and just going through the motions of living.
● Total Worthlessness. You feel as if your life has nothing important to contribute and is totally useless. You may feel full of guilt.
● Drastic Change of Mood. If once outgoing, you may become withdrawn or vice versa. You may often cry.
● Total Hopelessness. You feel that things are bad, there’s nothing you can do about them, and conditions will never get better.
● Wish You Were Dead. The anguish is so great that you frequently feel that you would be better off dead.
● Cannot Concentrate. You go over and over certain thoughts or reading material without comprehension.
● Change in Eating or Bowel Habits. Loss of appetite or overeating. Intermittent constipation or diarrhea.
● Sleeping Habits Change. Poor or excessive sleep. You may frequently have nightmares.
● Aches and Pains. Headaches, cramps and pains in the abdomen and chest. You may constantly feel tired for no good reason.
[Picture on page 14]
Talking to others and pouring out your heart is one of the best ways to cope with severe depression