Stigmatized Depression in Children and Teens
by Suzy Kierski
Have you ever woken up and not want to do anything? A pretty simple question with a
pretty clear and universal answer. Have you ever woken up and wish you hadn’t? Or have you ever gone to sleep hoping that you wouldn’t wake up the next day? If you haven’t, that’s okay. And if you have, that’s also okay. You might be thinking to yourself, “Who thinks that? No one.” but that’s where you’re wrong. In recent years, the number of children and teens diagnosed with mental health issues, such as depression, has increased. Along with this, the stigma surrounding mental health has also climbed. According to a survey conducted in 2011-2012, “the percentage of children who had ever been diagnosed with anxiety or depression increased from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12.” A 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health also stated that “of 46.6 million children, ages 6 through 18 whose parents completed a survey, 7.7 million had at least one mental health condition.” Now, this is from surveys where either the child or teen has been diagnosed, or their parent fills out the survey, not the child or teen that’s affected, but the parent. While this may seem fine and like a generally small number in comparison to the total, many children and teens don’t feel comfortable talking about their struggles with mental health to adults and won’t be as likely to open up about their issues. Mental health is, understandably, a touchy subject. However, with increasing numbers of children and teens that are diagnosed with depression, the stigma surrounding this shouldn’t be growing with it. It should instead be doing quite the opposite. With this increase, the best thing that can be offered to those suffering from depression, aside from treatment and other helpful resources, is support.
People don’t really ever want to talk about depression, or shut down the conversation as
soon as it’s brought up. As soon as someone says they’re depressed many people tend to jump to conclusions and tend to think, “Oh God, they’re suicidal.” but in reality, there is much more to depression than being suicidal. Sure, if someone is suicidal, more likely than not they’re probably depressed, but being suicidal is further along the lines of being depressed. Suicidal thoughts tend to come through when someone reaches rock bottom. Our goal as a society should be to do our best to make sure that no one ever feels that they’ve reached that point and to make sure that no one ever feels like they’ve reached rock bottom.
Depression is a dark place and state to be in. It’s already a very hard thing to handle.
Coupled with the stigma, negative thoughts and opinions coming from society surrounding it, it becomes even harder to deal with. People stray further and further from actively talking about depression and taking advantage of the resources around them to help them deal with their depression due to this stigma. With the impressionable minds of the teen, it becomes harder and harder to talk about depression when everyone surrounding you makes it seem like you’re crazy or something’s wrong with you as soon as you bring it up. Another study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics conveyed that half of the children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment. It’s okay to not be okay. What’s not okay is thinking that just because you’re struggling, something is wrong with you. What’s not okay is pushing someone who’s already down, even lower when they’re trying to get better.
It’s hard, and people understand that. Depression isn’t an easy topic. No one ever said it was. But simply ignoring it in the hopes that it’ll get better on its own, isn’t the way to approach the subject. Depression isn’t a thing that disappears on its own; it’ll seem like it does, but in reality, it just grows. It takes whatever hurt you before, creates a lens based on that and takes every new experience you have and funnels it through that lens. It’ll compare every new thing you experience to what had hurt you in the past. It won’t allow you to enjoy those experiences because it’ll constantly leave you terrified of getting hurt again.
It’s possible to smile and laugh and still be depressed. Society’s created the idea that if you’re depressed, you’re always sad or crying. The truth is that people feel so pressured into being happy all the time that they put on a mask. They go to school and pretend to be happy. They make jokes and laugh at whatever jokes are made amongst their group. They smile. But then they go home and that mask comes off. They break down. Or maybe some days they are happy, and then the next day, they feel like it's the worst day of their lives. Depression is presented as if you’re incapable of ever being happy or that it’s just moodiness. This isn’t just a concept that is spread amongst teens. Many adults and parents tend to deny that teens have depression, claiming that its symptoms of mood changes, lack of motivation, and moodiness are simply the characteristics of being a teenager. While this can be true, it's quite the generalization and is unfair to discredit depression as simply being a teen. This discourages teens from wanting to reach out and get the help and resources they need to get better because it makes them believe that what they’re feeling is a normal part of being a teen. As stated by the Washington Post, until the 1980s, experts didn’t think young people had developed enough to have such a grown-up condition like depression. Today most scientists and psychologists recognize that children as young as 4 or 5 years of age can be depressed.
Joseph Pulitzer III has said, “We will illuminate dark places, and with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times.” Depression is a dark place and it’s understandably not something many people are willing to talk about. However, as a society, we should work, not to make depression a normal thing, but simply to show more support for those who are struggling.
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