Seeing Through the Fog of Depression

teen depressionI was pregnant with my first child, teaching full-time and working on my master’s degree, which left me an exhausted, emotional wreck, and I remember waking up every morning for weeks thinking that getting through the day was just an impossible task. “I wonder if this is what it feels like to be depressed,” I would think. And then I’d say out loud, “Good thing you’re not depressed. Now get up!” So I did.

I’m feeling compelled to write about depression because I just finished a book written by a young man who started to experience the disease in early adolescence: Boy Meets Depression by Kevin Breel. Breel describes his depression as being like fog that kept him from seeing life the way he used to see it. “The beauty is missing and the perspective is gone. You can only see the six inches in front of your face, and those six inches aren’t pretty; they’re all out of focus, blurry.” Like Kevin, clients I have worked with have described depression as an absence of emotion, an absence of motivation, a force that makes them “a limp observer, standing on the sidelines, watching, wondering if life would ever feel good again.”

My few weeks of struggling to get out of bed in the morning didn’t even come close to real depression, and I think there’s a danger for those of us who have not experienced it, to judge those who do. “Just snap out of it!” “Get over it—what do you have to be depressed about?” These are comments that easily slide out of the mouths of those who have never experienced that immobilizing fog.

According to notmykid.org, one in twenty teens experience moderate to severe depression at some point during their teen years. Some will move through it and move on. Others will need treatment to learn how to manage it. My rule of thumb is: when in doubt, check it out. You might let your child’s cold or possible ear infection go on for a few days, but if symptoms persist, you’ll call the doctor. The same is true for depression. If your child experiences symptoms for a few days and then gets “back to normal,” that would be life happening. However, if your child experiences symptoms for over two weeks and doesn’t show signs of the depression lifting, it’s time to consult a professional.

A great starting point resource for both parents and teens is notmykid.org. This website offers information about depression and self-injury, drug abuse, and other areas of concern. As you educate yourself, have open conversations with your kids about what you’re learning. Listen—without judgment–more than you talk, so your children will feel more comfortable telling you if they are experiencing symptoms. Be willing to explore treatment, just as you would explore treatment for physical illnesses. Your ability to take action in the face of your child’s inaction, could be a matter of life or death.