Dear Abby, Let’s Talk about Teen Depression

new_abby_logo02It’s been estimated that approximately 15% of adolescents experience Major Depression with an additional 10% experiencing Minor Depression (Kessler & Walters, 1998). One-third of young women and one-fifth of young men have been depressed at some time in their lives. Many factors can be contributing to this and they’re not always clear. A recent “Dear Abby” speaks to one teen’s experience. See below:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 15-year-old boy in ninth grade. I have depression, and I don’t know what to do. I always feel like I’m not good enough for anything, even though I have had a 4.0 GPA since seventh grade. I have repeatedly cut myself, but I wear a bracelet so no one can see it.

I don’t want my family to find out because I’m afraid they will treat me like a poor little kid who is too easily offended. I don’t know what to do or who I can go to for help. Thank you for any help you can give me. — DROWNING IN DESPAIR

DEAR DROWNING: When a person is experiencing so much emotional pain that he (or she) is self-injuring, it’s time to get professional help to deal with it.

Ideally, you should be able to talk to your parents about the depth and duration of your depression. But because you feel you can’t, talk with a trusted teacher or counselor at school about it, or an adult relative you feel close enough to confide it to. Cutting is not the answer because it only brings temporary relief from the issues you have that need resolving.

I care about you, and I’m glad you asked me this question. Please don’t postpone following my advice.

The experience this teen faces is not an uncommon one. Adolescence can be an awkward time where you are growing both physically and mentally in ways that don’t always seem to coincide. It can seem to others that teenagers are often volatile and never know what can tick them off. That may very well be true in many ways; however, it doesn’t negate the importance of how we language ourselves.

With that said, I want to clarify something Abby said. She said that “Ideally, you should be able to talk to your parents about the depth and duration of your depression.” Perhaps in a perfect world, that may be “ideal” for some people, but there is more to the story. It’s hard enough for adults to talk with people about the “depth and duration” of their depression, so to expect that from a teen is unrealistic. Using the word “ideal” can further make the teen feel like there is something wrong with them that they don’t have the “ideal” parents or “ideal” relationship. The teen already said that they do not feel comfortable with their parents and what may be “ideal” for one person is not “ideal” to them. Let’s provide them with a safe space to find their “ideal.”

Another way to express what Abby said is to simply state that not everyone feels comfortable talking with their parents. Doing this may help normalize the teen’s feelings. Before we go into a “problem-solving” mode let’s reflect what that the person is saying. Many people find comfort in a teacher, counselor, or mental health professional. Parents are not always “everything” to the adolescent and it’s often intimidating for adolescents to talk to their mom or dad. Let’s begin to open the door to possibilities as adolescents find their way.

This post was in no way meant to criticize Abby’s response but more of a supplement to it. The fact that she suggested other possible resources is a great first step. We just need to be careful about our use of language and make sure we validate one another’s experience. What is “ideal” for one person is not for another. The word “ideal” can feel invalidating to an individual and leave someone feeling like there life is less than “ideal.”

What are your thoughts on this idea? Did the word “ideal” strike a cord with you?

Click here for the Dear Abby article.

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Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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2 replies

  1. Dear,,

    Hi.. please introduce myself,,My name is Hwang Cho Ryeon,,I am Asian,24 years old. I am unemployed. I have been fired from the job I was in twice. I can hardly find any other job bcs of my bad working experience on my cv.
    Since then, I realized that I am a slow learner. I was fired bcs I did mistakes for so many times and didn’t understand the instructions properly.

    Well, I have big problem with learning new thing. I used to be a very hardworker but still there always be some flaws on my work. My supervisor always mad at me like, “I’ve said it so many times!”. They did right thing. I didnt blame my previous supervisors who fired me. All I am blaming is my ability of learning and understanding.

    Because of this,I know my weakness well. This leads me to have a terrible feeling when it comes to talk to someone, I’m always getting nervous and panic when I have to explain something. That’s one of the reason why I got fired. I have bad communication skill. Why, because I am afraid if I’m doing wrong.

    Ever since the last day of my working, I haven’t applied for any job yet. I have traumatic feeling about getting fired. My mom always scold me and asking why I’m not looking for another Job. In fact, I never told this to anyone before include, (especially) my parents. I told them that my contract was terminated because I had to handle another job outside my Job desc. I didn’t tell them the honest reason.

    I can’t even share this to my bestfriends bcs they are the people I am envy with. They are the people I wish I could be. They are now having good position in their company with good salary. I feel so much intimidated when we go out for cinema or just hanging out,, they’re all proudly spending their self-earn money and sharing their working experience. Meanwhile, I am still using my parent’s money,, and the leftover money from my last salary.Things are getting harder for me when they ask what my daily activities are. In fact Im just doing nothing at home.

    I keep telling lies to everyone. I am really afraid to tell the truth and to be judged. Having myself as a slow learner has already become the most hurtful thing I have to face.

    Now I am fighting so much againts my own anxiety and low self esteem. I am so afraid what if I never get a proper job.
    I am really expecting for you to do me a favor about what to do? What am I supposed to do ?
    I am so much thankful for your help..

    Best Regards
    Hwang Cho Ryeon

    • Hi Hwang,
      It sounds like you’re going through a difficult time. It’s hard feeling like your not doing well and are being scolded. This is not easy for anyone. We recommend finding some resources in your area that could better help you in understanding and navigating the path you’re on. Try searching for therapists in your area and hopefully that can lead you to some answers. Best wishes, Psych Connection

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