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What You Need to Know About Teens and Depression

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Depression is a maddening enigma, one that our society has had extreme difficulty in unraveling its mysteries for centuries. Depression is debilitating and difficult to deal with at any age but when these symptoms manifest at such a vulnerable age, as the teenage and young adult years are, it becomes a cocktail for disaster.

Teens who start feeling the symptoms of depression can quickly become overwhelmed with confusion and isolation. They find their minds distracted with agonizing questions. "Why am I so tired all of the time?" "Why am I so moody?" "Why have all the things I once enjoyed been replaced with complete indifference?" And the question that lingers in their minds that is the most important of them all is, "Am I the only one who feels this way?" Unfortunately when it comes to teenagers and depression it seems like the questions quickly surpass the answers.

Young adults tend to compare themselves to their peers and that's normal, we have all been there. We all want to fit in. We all want to be what society has cooked up to being "normal" through magazines, movies and social media. But when someone is suffering from a serious undiagnosed illness, like is very often the case with depression, it becomes very easy to feel alienated from friends, misunderstood by the world and completely alone.

Young adults do not want to reach out for help about their problems. I know that I didn't. I just desperately wanted to be "normal." I wanted to feel like everyone else and I thought that if I hid my feelings of pain deep down inside that they would eventually disappear. This can't be further from the truth. What it in fact does is create a poison that pumps through our veins, infecting our thoughts and judgments on how we perceive ourselves in this world. Depression skews our outlook on life and how our lives appear to others. Symptoms that manifest from depression- apathy, exhaustion, mood swings, physical pain, inclination towards drug use and other risky behaviors -- get written off as a "phase" that we as a society are conditioned to think.

Ten years ago when I was in high school and started to experience these feeling it resulted in confusion for everyone in my life. It's become a way too common response from parents and teachers to see these behaviors and assume that with time they will pass. I had good grades. I was involved in several school activities. I had a good group of friends. On the outside I seemed entirely put together, so no red flags went up in either my parents' or my teachers' eyes. That was not their fault and it was most certainty not my fault.

It is the broken system that we live in when in comes to dealing with mental health that is to blame. I was afraid to speak up because I didn't want people to misunderstand my depression. I didn't want a diagnosis synonymous with crazy. I didn't want to be grouped into a statistic that leads to social exile. So I allowed a raging storm to build up inside of me. For years I desperately tried to keep it at bay; feelings that I was ashamed of and thought I could suppress forever. But depression is not a phase, it is an illness and without proper treatment it can and will be deadly.

Too many teenagers find themselves in the same identity crisis I did all those years ago. They want to act and feel like their friends do but on the other hand they are harboring feelings that are extremely toxic. We find teens suffering from depression often taking on what almost can be considered a "double life" for the lack of a better term. In school they seem peppy, outgoing and funny. Their social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are cluttered with pictures of carefree, fun and joyful adolescents that couldn't be further from the truth.

The truth is that many of these teens start to self-destruct under this immense pressure to appear normal and to convince themselves and those around them that everything is okay; that they have things under control. But things are not under control and we as a society need to make it clear that this does not equate to failure and that getting help is actually the complete opposite. It is a sign of immense strength and courage.

The taboo on mental illness in this country leaves young adults with no options, nowhere to turn, no one to trust. They feel alienated, lost, invisible and alone and that is a recipe for suicide. These kids do not want to die but with no resources to turn to they find themselves trapped in a bubble of isolation and feel that taking their lives is the only way out; the only way to release the pain they have kept buried deep inside for so long. We have set up a system where many young adults suffering from depression feel that death is the only option. Mental Health America reports that 5,000 young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 die by suicide each year. That is approximately 13 deaths a day; 13 deaths that didn't have to happen. Thirteen young lives that were ended too soon due to an illness that our society refuses to address.

Where is the compassion that our society claims to have? These are young adults with so much potential, so much to offer our world who are being cast away into the shadows because people aren't "ready" to talk about mental illness. How many young lives is our world going to lose before society is ready to puncture holes in this deadly taboo? Depression in young adults can't be ignored any longer. Every day another young life is lost to mental illness and it isn't their fault. It is our society's refusal to acknowledge this deadly disease that is to blame.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.