Today I learned very sad news about an old school friend who lost her son to suicide this morning. He was only 16. On the outside, this handsome young man seemed to be a kid that had absolutely everything going for him. My heart aches for their family and my stomach is weak at very the thought.
Though I do not know details about events leading up to this tragic event, it makes me want to stand on my little soap box for a bit about depression.
Depression is real. It exists. It is not made-up or imagined. Clinical anxiety and depression are neurological disorders, and are due to an imbalance of chemicals, such as serotonin, in the brain. It cannot be wished away.
Our society as a general rule does not take depression seriously and tends to paint it with the biased brush of weakness. This is mainly because it is misunderstood. And when people don’t understand, they can often jump to conclusions, just like in politics or anything else. But depression can happen to anyone, big or tall, male or female, old or young, weak or strong. It can happen for a short time or it can happen for a long time. There are many hereditary factors as well as external factors that can affect the odds of someone experiencing depression.
According to MedScape.com, as many as two thirds of people with depression do not realize that they have a treatable illness and do not seek treatment. And only 50% of those diagnosed with major depression receive any kind of treatment at all. Until it is better understood by the public and even health providers, the stigma will continue to outweigh the benefits of diagnosis and treatment.
It is important to note that depression is very common in teenagers, as well as adults. Suicide, most often a result of depression, is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 years old and the eighth leading reported cause of death in the United States. Male teenagers are much more often successful at suicide attempts. According to Wikipedia, American males between the ages of 20 and 24 have a suicide rate that is seven times higher than that of women.
For teenagers, changes in behavior, friend choices, academics and attitude must be more than noticed. They must also be addressed head-on, with professional help if needed.
I must also note that therapy is very misunderstood by society. Participating in psychotherapy is not a sign of weakness. Actually it is quite the opposite. It requires a willingness to dig deep into self, and to understand complex patterns of thinking. It’s for those with the type of grit necessary to turn their own heavy handed mirror inward and accept themselves, flaws and all. And as a reward, students of therapy get to grow by leaps and bounds from the knowledge gained.
Today, while I am truly saddened for my friend and her family’s great loss and the sorrowful days ahead, I am thankful for the knowledge that depression is slowly becoming more understood by our society.