Depression: Help for Young People

I was inspired by Professor Railton’s courage to join him in coming Out of the Closet” to admit that I, too, have lived through debilitating depressive episodes.  

Railton says: “We must call [depression] mental illness because that’s what it is, illness that takes up residence in the mind, but no more of the essence of a person than any other illness.  And when we hear of mental illness, treatment should be the first thing that comes to mind.”

The Facebook link to my “confession” prompted an outpouring of moving stories, mutual support and help that I hope to make more accessible with this and other posts.  

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to depression and are among the least well equipped to get help.  Liz wrote:  “The black dog” of depression and other mental illnesses are part of our common human experience.  We need to be able to openly discuss our mental health, just like we do our physical health: there should be no shame in being in pain.  I was recently gratified to read an article my high-school age daughter wrote for our local paper on this subject; I didn’t know she was that brave!  Maybe it means things are actually changing? 

Liz’ daughter, Katie, is indeed brave and her article “Teen Talk: YouTube can be a valuable resource” offers very practical help.

Katie begins by telling us: “Studies show that the number of teenagers who report feeling regularly anxious and/or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years or so, that children today have anxiety levels similar to those of the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

When Katie experienced “a perfect storm of stress and unhappiness” she, like every teenager, needed more help than her parents could provide:  “I am lucky enough to have supportive parents who could sympathize with what I was experiencing, but sometimes sympathy wasn’t enough.  I wanted to feel understood; I wanted a sense of camaraderie with other people my age who were going through similar things.”

What she found is: “on YouTube of all places … a handful of younger people — younger women especially — who made videos on their experiences with anxiety, depression, body image and mental illnesses in general, to spread awareness and encourage recovery …  People … offered authentic and beneficial suggestions on how to manage living with anxiety or depression on a day-to-day basis.”

This is so important because:  “Teenagers who don’t feel comfortable telling anyone that they are dealing with mental illness now have somewhere they are able to get information.”

“That’s not to say,” Katie writes, “that informational YouTube videos are a replacement for cognitive behavioral therapy or any other form of treatment, but they are certainly a step in the right direction — a step that many people would not normally be able to take.”

I hope we can change what Katie points out:  “There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. Our culture teaches us that mental illness is something we must keep to ourselves, something that is too personal to share or discuss, something we should feel ashamed of.”

But people need help now.  So, everyone who knows a teenager, here’s a way they or a friend can get help when they feel alone, too vulnerable to talk.

Thank you so much, Liz and Katie!

 

6 comments on “Depression: Help for Young People

  1. Liz commented later about Katie’s aspiration:

    “Katie hopes one day to work with adolescents in some capacity. She thinks they are too often ignored or demonized (especially girls) and believes we need to talk with kids about issues of social justice, equality, and mental health earlier so that we can change unhealthy and unjust perspectives and attitudes before they become a part of a person’s fundamental world view and identity.”

    I hope Katie finds a way to do that and is joined by many, many others.

  2. I would like to speculate about why teenage anxiety levels have doubled in the last 30 years. We live in anxiety laden world today. Was it less so in 1985? Perhaps not. However, information about all the dangers in the world is at least an order of magnitude more widespread, more available, more descriptive, and more detailed. The sources range from sexual abuse by those we were supposed to trust, to widespread bullying, to openness about sexual orientation, to recent wars, to racism, to a breach of trust by our elected officials, to the heavy emphasis on success and money, to higher rates of divorce…the list goes on and on. In addition, young people are far more conscious about such topics as psychology and relationships; they are more tuned in.

    I am not so sure that humans have evolved sufficiently to handle this vast sensory input without becoming anxious. With much less input constantly streaming in, young people had fewer things to think about and more time to deal with them. What could be more anxiety provoking than having to sort through things being thrown at you without enough time to consider them sufficiently? I guess I am saying that being ignorant and sheltered reduces anxiety for most people. Being swamped creates anxiety.

    Being anxious also leads to faulty thinking. It causes the mind to go down paths that wouldn’t be taken if the mind was in a calmer state. This wastes psychic energy, making it even more difficult to think clearly.

    At its core, depression is a loss of hope. Is it really a disease or is it a normal (healthy) reaction to overwhelming external circumstances? The difficulty seems to arise when the thoughts we had in the overwhelming situation get etched in our psyche and get replayed and reused in areas of our lives where they are no longer applicable, causing poor choices and on going depressive or reactive thoughts. The process of getting thoughts untangled is not an simple task. I have found it to be a life long quest.

  3. I asked Liz if Katie’s research had shed light on why teenage anxiety levels are higher. I said I suspect everyone’s anxiety is higher.

    Liz replied: “She says (and I agree) that our world pushes at us constantly–both demanding more of us and scattering our attention. Add to that the increased expectations in the digital age with adolescent brains that are not fully mature until 25 and fears about the planet, jobs, etc. AND the image-obsession that social media promotes, and you have a perfect storm for adolescents.”

    Things like the Youtube community Katie wrote about are a great blessing. But the dark side of digital media is indeed that they amplify social pressure.

    Another factor that affects all of us is the view of the world mainstream media presents.

    When I was Katie’s age in England in the early ’60s, nuclear WW3 felt imminent and the British Empire that had dominated the world was suddenly gone. On the other hand, life was a lot better than only a decade earlier and it was possible to hope that if we were not wiped out by nuclear war, there could be much better opportunities. Here in the USA in 2015 we’re filled with fear of 9/11 or worse new terrorist attacks, the post-financial crisis economy is in real terms worse for the majority, we suddenly seem powerless in world affairs. and all our politicians do is bicker about who is to blame.

    I believe these circumstances, which media encourage us to hate each other for, are a major cause of anxiety for everyone.

    I also agree with Liz’ next point:

    “We all tend to have diets much higher in sugar and refined carbohydrates and to be more sedentary than is helpful for us. New research shows this has profound impacts on depression and anxiety–both because of the insulin resistance syndromes that develop and because sugar feeds a different gut biome than does a more balanced diet. For example, more dopamine is produced in the gut than in the brain . . . and it’s produced my fiber-loving not sugar-loving microbes. Who eats the most sugar? Teens . . . food for thought.”

    Liz and, I hope, Katie, too, will add their own comments to this discussion when they have time because, as Liz said:

    “There is so much to say on this topic. People argue about whether depression and anxiety are primarily biochemical imbalances or life imbalances, and about whether or not these states are normal human experiences, powerful messages from the unconscious, or a sign that there is something dangerously amiss in the mind/body.

    “I tend to think that these experiences are all of these: normal, part of the human experience, powerful messages from ourselves to ourselves, a sign that there is something that needs to be tended to, and quickly. We are a soup of causes and conditions, as are our mental and physical illnesses.”

    I agree 100% with Liz’ diagnosis. Illness is normal. When its symptoms manifest, illness needs to be treated.

  4. Hi All. I’m not sure on which of your many beautifully written and vitally important blog entries I should share this, but the enclosed link is to one of many, many articles that are addressing the importance of the gut biome as it relates to issues of mental health and well being. In a nutshell, as the article says, “Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.” Pretty cool and pretty important! http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/

  5. I’ve been following the research on gut biome and gut-brain axis with interest; food issues including celiac have a known genetic component, as do many mental illnesses. When my celiac crisis struck 4 years ago, I was surprised at how much my energy, attention and mood improved, and how quickly (after first getting much, much worse!).

    I’m looking forward to the SA article – another friend posted a link recently to an article that showed promise adding turmeric and omega-3, to reduce inflammation. But it’s possible that it’s at least as important to *remove* potentially inflammatory foods from the diet, for long enough to really know if it makes a difference – as one part of a search for the very personal kind of treatment protocol that seems to differ for everyone, and to elude simple prescriptions. Other pluses – feeling better in many other ways; no side effects – but I was highly motivated to undertake dietary change, and had exceptional support in the kitchen and elsewhere.

    (I realize the larger picture is far more complex – and I’d have found it much more difficult when younger to absolutely eliminate foods that are so common, and such a part of the social world; I feel very fortunate.)

  6. Hi Sara. I’m so glad you found some relief from removing gluten from your diet (me too)!

    For anyone who is interested, there are other promising nutritional therapies out there too (a lot, actually . . . omega fatty acids, B vitamins, and another really interesting one is using inositol (myo-inositol and D-chiro inositol) to treat anxiety, depression, and OCD. Studies have proven this to be an effective treatment for many people. It appears that a lot of our mental maladies respond to lowering refined sugars in our diets and working with insulin resistance. I think there are probably two reasons for this: the fact that “bad” microbes “hijack” our craving centers and get us to eat simple carbohydrates because that’s what THEY want (but these simple carbos aren’t what WE need for mental and physical health), and the fact that increased insulin resistance means decreased energy and mental well-being because we aren’t efficiently utilizing food energy, and don’t have the nutrients we need when and where we need them. The whole thing is pretty complex, but so cool. (There is also the problem that we need to move our bodies to efficiently use glucose, and the more sugar in the blood, the more insulin resistance effects us (If you don’t know about this, you might want to read up on glucose transporters that work in the muscles without insulin when we exercise (Glut5 in particular).

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