Melissa was in my office crying. At 18 years old, she had just returned from college feeling like a failure.
Her interest in her friends and school had declined, and she had spent much of the last month in her room, avoiding classes and drinking. In addition, she was sleeping poorly and was not eating very much.
During our chat, she confessed that she felt her life was not worth living, and had thought about ending it with a fistful of pills. She didn’t think anything could help her feel better and would roll her eyes when I’d suggest something. Melissa was young, smart, attractive, considerate, thoughtful and depressed.
Depression is a mental disorder affecting about eight per cent of Canadian youth, usually starting between the years of 14 and 25. Depression is a serious illness that may negatively affect intimate relationships, academic and vocational success, and family relationships. Frequently, it’s a lifelong problem — more than 70 per cent of teenagers who experience an episode of depression will have another episode within five years.
Depression can be successfully treated. However, many young people with depression do not get the help they need. It may be confused with “normal teenage behaviour,” so instead of receiving help, the teen is ignored or criticized.
Fast-forward five months. Melissa bounced into my office. She didn’t want to stay long because she was heading out with her friends. She laughed at one of her own jokes and teased me about my messy desk.
Her mood was cheerful, and she was limiting her drinking to only a few beers on the weekends. She was sleeping better, working hard, and was spending her evenings out with friends or at dance class. She was planning to go back to university in the fall and wanted to study psychology to learn more about depression.
Melissa’s story represents hope for young people living with depression. We know what depression is and how it can be helped.
It’s time to stop stigmatizing people who have a brain disorder called depression and to encourage them to seek the treatment that can help. It’s time to make sure the care that is needed is easily available. It’s time Melissa’s story is the norm, not the exception.