By Vaughn Huelsman
Most teenagers today either have or know someone who has clinical depression. The rate of major mood disorders in teenagers has doubled in the past thirty years, and at a rate of 12.5%, it has surpassed what it was during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Psychologists attribute this rapid growth to adolescents being exposed to higher amounts of stress, but not being taught how to deal with their problems, blaming their emotional turbulence on themselves. Due to the pressure to succeed in in high school, participate in extracurriculars, and be admitted into college, today’s teenagers set immensely high standards for themselves. When reaching to succeed in each of the criteria, adolescents feel that regardless of what they achieve, anything short of their ambitious goals is failure.
As common as the issue is, victims of depression rarely seek treatment. More than 60% do not report their symptoms, often because of a fear that they will be judged for having mood disorders. Our society is extremely retroactive when it comes to dealing with mental illness, treating the problem as something that can be dealt with by willpower alone. This view causes sufferers to blame themselves, suppress their feelings, turn to addictive substances, and sometimes even contemplate suicide. This is appalling, because these mental illnesses which are so largely ignored, have an 80% chance of being treated with psychotherapy or medication.
Depression has a high rate of treatability, but is difficult to identify in teens, especially because symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, and oversleeping can seem like typical adolescent behavior. It’s crucial to recognize these symptoms when they accompany persisting feelings of sadness and hopelessness as well as thoughts of suicide, because the only way to prevent escalation is to consult a medical professional. People should never feel afraid or ashamed to seek help for their mood disorders.
In order to make people with depression comfortable reaching out, we first need to ensure they have a safe environment where they know they are understood and supported. This environment, which is almost always present when dealing with a physical injury, is extremely lacking when it comes to mental illness. In most cases, this is due to the fact that issues with mental health are hard to understand for those who haven’t experienced them, and are incredibly difficult to talk about. Lack of discussion and true empathy can cause people to feel abandoned and alone in their suffering, causing them to take great measures to end their emotional pain.
The shattering of the social stigma that surrounds mood disorders is long overdue. Until we educate both parents and children about the realities of depression, teenagers will continue to resort to any means necessary to cope, rather than talking to those who can actually help.