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Fighting stereotypes: talking about depression as a teenager
When I was younger I did have my fair share of arguments and door-slamming matches with my father and stepmother, but things began to change when I was about 14.
Suddenly, thoughts of my late mother and how much I missed her would spring to mind; I would often cry myself to sleep, and I began to self-harm. In reality, I hardly knew why; I just felt I needed some form of release, and that perhaps physical pain would distract me from the mental pain I was experiencing.
I did not speak to my father about it. I worried that he would tell me I was being ridiculous and that I needed to grow up. Whenever I did appear low around him, he would simply put it down to the common stereotype of the moody teenager.
I didn’t say much to my friends
I didn’t say much to my friends, either. If they asked how I was feeling, I would say, “Not great,” but hardly ever go into any detail. My closest friends knew about my mother and so I could confide in them about the thoughts surrounding that but I told no-one about the harm I was doing to myself.
I didn’t know a lot about mental illness at that age, which is why I now feel it is fundamental to introduce awareness of such issues into education, to increase understanding and, therefore, to (hopefully) decrease stigma. When I turned 15 and things hadn’t improved I began to look for answers. I was quickly drawn into the overload of information the internet offers: I read articles, I took quizzes, I looked up different symptoms. It seemed to me as though I seemed to be suffering from depression.
"Oh, don’t be so stupid!" he snapped
Nervously, I approached a friend about this possibility. I had expected some ignorance, as I myself had known very little not long before but not the retaliation I actually got. “Oh, don’t be so stupid!” he snapped. “There’s no such thing as clinical depression. It’s just an excuse for doctors to get you out of their waiting rooms quicker. Everyone feels sad at some point or another. You’ll snap out of it eventually.”
I was shocked. Worried that everyone might react in the same way, I clammed up about it, but the arguments at home, the crying and the self-harm continued. By the time I was 16, my symptoms had changed slightly – I felt numb more than anything.
I would sit aimlessly around the house
After my GCSEs, when I could’ve been out seeing my friends, I would sit aimlessly around the house, lacking the motivation to do anything. My father commented on my "unwillingness" to help around the house and asked why I wasn’t doing more to "broaden my horizons" when I had so much free time.
My one salvation, who to this day is still my saving grace, was my younger half-brother. With 10 years between us, I don’t just feel like a big sister to him; at times I almost feel like a second mother. I have helped look after him since birth, and we are extremely close. He was the only person that could help lift my mood, yet he was far too young to understand any of what was going on.
I didn’t get help until I was 17, by which time I'd had a bit of a breakdown. I’d also begun to suffer symptoms of anxiety around alcohol, triggered by unpleasant events that took me back to the days of my mother’s chronic alcoholism. I eventually confided in my father. I didn’t give him all the details, but I assured him I needed help.
I can talk to my family and friends with more confidence
I went to my GP and later received psychotherapy before beginning university. Things improved for a while but I had a relapse in my symptoms about six months ago and am now on anti-depressants, which are helping greatly. Now that I am that bit older, and more informed about mental illness, I can talk to my family and friends with more confidence. I also have a fantastic boyfriend who helps out in any way he can, especially on my ‘bad’ days.
Life isn’t easy with depression, but for me it was even worse as a teenager. We definitely need to be teaching schoolchildren about mental illness so that more young people do not experience the anxiety and stigma that I did.