Why Do I Get So Depressed?
Melanie had always lived up to her mother’s ideal of the perfect child—until she turned 17. 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. When her parents gently inquired what was wrong, she stormed away saying, “Leave me alone! There’s nothing wrong.”
Mark, at 14, 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.
MELANIE and Mark both suffered forms of the same malady—depression. Dr. Donald McKnew of the National Institute of Mental Health says that 10 to 15 percent of schoolchildren may suffer mood disorders. A smaller number suffer from severe depression.
At times there is a biologic basis for the problem. Some infections or endocrine-system diseases, the hormonal shifts of the menstrual cycle, hypoglycemia, certain medications, exposure to toxic metals or chemicals, allergic reactions, an unbalanced diet, anemia—all of these can trigger depression.
Pressures at the Root of Depression
However, the teen years themselves are often the source of emotional stress. Not having an adult’s experience in handling life’s ups and downs, a youth can feel that no one cares and could become painfully depressed over relatively commonplace matters.
Failing to measure up to the expectations of parents, teachers, or friends is another cause of melancholy. Donald, for example, felt that he had to excel in school to please his well-educated parents. Failing to do that, he became depressed and suicidal. “I have never done anything right. I have always let everybody down,” lamented Donald.
That a sense of failure can kindle depression is evident from the case of a man named Epaphroditus. During the first century, this faithful Christian was sent on a special mission to assist the imprisoned apostle Paul. But when he reached Paul he soon fell sick—and Paul, instead, had to care for him! You can imagine, then, why Epaphroditus might have felt like such a failure and became “depressed.” Apparently he overlooked all the good he had performed before he got sick.—Philippians 2:25-30.
A Sense of Loss
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 the loss of one’s physical health could also be at the root of depression.
A most devastating loss to a young person, though, is the loss of love, the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for. “When my mother left us I felt betrayed and alone,” revealed a young woman named Marie. “My world suddenly seemed upside down.”
Imagine, then, the bewilderment and pain some youths feel when faced with 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. How true the Bible proverb: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power [including the ability to resist depression] will be scanty”! (Proverbs 24:10) A youth may even mistakenly blame himself for his family’s problems.
Recognizing the Symptoms
There are different degrees of depression. A young person might temporarily be demoralized by some upsetting event. But usually such blues fade in a relatively short time.
However, if the depressed mood lingers and the youth has a general negative feeling along with feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and anger, this can develop into what doctors call low-grade chronic depression. As the experiences of Mark and Melanie (mentioned at the outset) show, the symptoms can vary considerably. One young person may have anxiety attacks. Another may be tired all the time, have no appetite, experience trouble in sleeping, lose weight, or suffer a series of accidents.
Some young persons try to hide depression by embarking upon a pleasure binge: an endless round of parties, sexual promiscuity, vandalism, heavy drinking, and the like. “I don’t really know why I have to be going out all the time,” confessed one 14-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.”—Proverbs 14:13.
When It’s More Than Just the Blues
If low-grade chronic depression is not dealt with, it can progress to a more serious disorder—major depression. (See page 107.) “I constantly felt as if I were ‘dead’ inside,” explained Marie, a victim of major depression. “I was just existing without any emotions. I had a feeling of constant dread.” In major depression the gloomy mood is unrelenting and may continue for months. Consequently, this type of depression is the most common ingredient in teen suicides—now considered a “hidden epidemic” in many countries.
The most persistent emotion connected with major depression—and the deadliest—is a deep sense of hopelessness. Professor John E. Mack writes of a 14-year-old named Vivienne, who was a victim of major depression. To all outward appearances she was a perfect young lady with caring parents. Yet, in the depths of despair, she hanged herself! Wrote Professor Mack: “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 thus feel as if they will never get better, that there is no tomorrow. Such hopelessness, according to experts, often leads to suicidal behavior.
Suicide, however, is not the answer. Marie, whose life had become a living nightmare, confessed: “The thoughts of suicide definitely came into my mind. But I realized that as long as I didn’t kill myself there was always hope.” Ending it all indeed solves nothing. Unfortunately, when confronted with despair, many young persons cannot even visualize alternatives or the possibility of a favorable outcome. Marie thus tried to hide her problem by injecting herself with heroin. She said: “I had plenty of self-confidence—until the drug wore off.”
Dealing With Minor Distress
There are sensible ways of dealing with feelings of depression. “Some people get depressed because they’re hungry,” observed Dr. Nathan S. Kline, a New York specialist on depression. “A person may not eat breakfast and for some reason miss lunch. Then by three o’clock he begins wondering why he doesn’t feel right.”
What you eat can also make a difference. Debbie, a young woman plagued with feelings of despair, admitted: “I didn’t realize that junk food was so detrimental to my mood. I ate a lot of it. Now I notice that when I eat fewer sweets, I feel better.” Other helpful steps: Some form of exercise may lift your spirits. In some cases, a medical checkup would be in order, since depression can be a symptom of physical illness.
Winning the Battle of the Mind
Often depression is brought on or made worse by having negative thoughts about yourself. “When you’ve been through a lot of people cutting at you,” lamented 18-year-old Evelyn, “it makes you think you’re not worth anything.”
Consider: Is it up to others to measure your worth as a person? Similar ridicule was heaped upon the Christian apostle Paul. Some said that he was a weakling and a poor speaker. Did this make Paul feel worthless? Not at all! Paul knew that meeting God’s standard was the important thing. He could boast over what he had accomplished with God’s help—regardless of what others were saying. If you, too, remind yourself of the fact that you have a standing with God, the gloomy mood will often leave.—2 Corinthians 10:7, 10, 17, 18.
What if you are depressed because of some weakness or sin you have committed? “Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet,” God told Israel, “they will be made white just like snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Never overlook the compassion and patience of our heavenly Father. (Psalm 103:8-14) But are you also striving hard to overcome your problem? You must do your part if you are to ease your mind of feelings of guilt. As the proverb says: “He that is confessing and leaving [his transgressions] will be shown mercy.”—Proverbs 28:13.
Another way to fight the blues is to set realistic goals for yourself. You don’t have to be top in your school class to be successful. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18) Accept the fact that disappointments are a part of life. When these occur, rather than feel, ‘No one cares what happens to me and no one ever will,’ tell yourself, ‘I’ll get over it.’ And there’s nothing wrong with having a good cry.
The Value of Accomplishment
“Despair doesn’t go away on its own,” advises Daphne, who successfully lived through bouts of discouragement. “You have to think on a different line or physically get involved. You have to start doing something.” Consider Linda, who said when working hard to fight a sullen mood: “I’m on a sewing spree. I can work on my wardrobe and, in time, I forget about what’s troubling me. It really helps.” Doing things that you are good at can build your self-esteem—which is usually at rock bottom during depression.
Also beneficial is engaging in activities that bring you pleasure. Try shopping for some personal treat, playing games, cooking your favorite recipe, browsing through a bookstore, dining out, reading, even working at a puzzle, such as those that appear in Awake! magazine.
Debbie found that by planning short trips or setting little goals for herself, she could cope with her depressed mood. However, doing things to aid others proved to be one of her biggest helps. “I met this young woman who was very depressed, and I began to help her to study the Bible,” revealed Debbie. “These weekly discussions gave me opportunity to tell her how she could overcome her depression. The Bible gave her real hope. This helped me at the same time.” Just as Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
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 who has the ability to help. “A friend is loving at all times, and becomes a brother in times of trouble,” according to Proverbs 17:17. (The Bible in Basic English) “When you keep it to yourself it is like carrying a heavy load all alone,” said 22-year-old Evan. “But when you share it with someone who is qualified to help, it becomes much lighter.”
‘But I’ve already tried that,’ you may say, ‘and all I get is a lecture to look on the bright side of life.’ Where, then, can you find someone who will be not only an understanding listener but also an objective counselor?—Proverbs 27:5, 6.
Begin by ‘giving your heart to’ your parents. (Proverbs 23:26) They know you better than anyone else does, and they can often help if you let them. If they discern the problem is severe, they might even arrange for you to receive professional help.a
Members of the Christian congregation are another source of help. “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. Among Jehovah’s true worshipers you too can find friends and “family” who are genuinely interested in your welfare.—Mark 10:29, 30; John 13:34, 35.
Power Beyond What Is Normal
The most powerful aid in dispelling gloom, however, is what the apostle Paul called “the power beyond what is normal,” which comes from God. (2 Corinthians 4:7) He can help you fight off depression if you lean on him. (Psalm 55:22) With his holy spirit he gives power beyond your normal resources.
This friendship with God is truly reassuring. “When I have sad times,” said a young woman named Georgia, “I pray a lot. I know that Jehovah is going to provide a way out no matter how deep a problem I have.” Daphne agrees, adding: “You can tell Jehovah everything. You just pour out your heart and you know, even if no human can, he really understands you and cares about you.”
So if you are depressed, pray to God, and seek out someone wise and understanding to whom you can bare your feelings. In the Christian congregation you will find “older men” who are skillful counselors. (James 5:14, 15) They stand ready to help you maintain your friendship with God. For God understands and invites you to throw your anxieties upon him “because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6, 7) Indeed, the Bible promises: “The peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:7.
a Most medical experts advise that victims of major depression should receive professional help because of the danger of suicide. For example, there may be a need for medication that can only be dispensed by a medical professional.
Questions for Discussion
◻ What are some things that can cause a youth to become depressed? Have you ever felt that way?
◻ Can you identify the symptoms of low-grade chronic depression?
◻ Do you know how to recognize major depression? Why is this such a serious malady?
◻ Name some ways of battling the blues. Have any of these suggestions worked for you?
◻ Why is it so important to talk matters out when you are seriously depressed?
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Severe depression is the most common factor in teen suicides
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A personal friendship with God can help you to deal with major depression
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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 you once enjoyed. You feel unreal, as if in a fog and just going through the motions of living.
Total Worthlessness. You feel that your life has nothing important to contribute and is totally useless. You may feel full of guilt.
Drastic Change of Mood. If you were 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 you read 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.
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Failure to live up to one’s parents’ expectations can cause a youth to feel depressed
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Talking to others and pouring out your heart is one of the best ways to cope
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Doing things for others is yet another way to beat the blues