Do you know what it’s like to feel like a vegetable? To have no motivation to do things you once loved? Do you know what it feels like to not want to get up from bed, to eat, or even to talk? Depression and anxiety manifest differently among people, but the unifying factor is that they are all mentally damaging.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that in 2016, approximately 3.1 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode. This accounts for about 12.8 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 12 to 17. The prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adolescents ages 13 to 18 is estimated to be 31.9 percent. Among them, 8.3 percent had severe impairment from anxiety.
According to the University of Washington School of Social Work, some of the major symptoms of depression include persistent sadness or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, loss of interest in hobbies that you once enjoyed, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, and lastly, thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts. Anxiety can result in some of these depressive symptoms as well, including restlessness or feeling on-edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or having your mind go blank, muscle tension, difficulties controlling worries, and sleeping problems.
Senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy Va'Shawn Hutcherson, who struggles with both anxiety and depression, said that “anxiety often clouds my judgment” and depression has kept him from “being happy... I try to shrug it off by hiding the pain with my exterior but deep inside I still suffer. I often feel like I have no person in the world who cares about me."
You may know someone who always seems sorrowful and lonely, and you might think they are suffering from depression. But maybe the girl who is always carrying around a smile is actually the one hurting. The truth is, people who suffer from depression vary. And not everyone projects the external symptoms in the same way. Whether they appear happy or depressed, they may both be facing the same monster.
Teens are particularly vulnerable to depression as it is associated with increases in stress, changes in one’s body’s chemistry, and major transitions in one’s life. This is pretty much the definition of being a teenager.
The cost of anxiety and depression for teenagers is high. In addition to psychological suffering, it can be hard for them to focus on school work. “Depression and anxiety can affect one’s daily life by causing decreased motivation and energy to complete schoolwork, difficulty concentrating on assignments or lectures, feelings of guilt about not meeting expectations, and feelings of hopeless for the future,” said Michelle Privé, a clinical social worker at Boston Medical Center. That makes them more likely to receive poor grades, which is why it’s very important for school administrators, teachers and parents to be aware of students who are suffering from anxiety and depression.
It also becomes increasingly difficult for depressed and anxious teens to maintain relationships and keep open lines of communication. Privé stated that “Depression and anxiety can affect one’s daily lives socially by causing isolation from family and friends, feelings of worthless, and loss of interest in usual social activities.”
But despite your differences and struggles, people from your community want you to know that you are not alone. While both of these mental disorders can make you feel lonely and hopeless, know that they are both treatable with medications, therapy and natural coping strategies.
There are treatments available to help reduce the symptoms of these disorders and improve your mood. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help, as well as taking initiative with “exercising, making healthy food choices, getting enough sunlight, practicing relaxation skills, using mindfulness skills, or finding ways to express feelings through writing, drawing, or talking,” said Privé. To find out more information about how these coping strategies work, or which prescription medication are most appropriate for you, consult with your doctor or counselor.
For those who know someone with depression or anxiety, it’s not easy to know the most fitting thing to say or do to help your friend. But simply listening to them can help them understand that you care. “Once you’re listening to a friend, you’re already supporting them in an important way,” Privé said. Sometimes the smallest actions can mean the most to someone who is feeling lost, out of place or lonely.
To my best friend Va’Shawn, and all those who suffer from anxiety and/or depression:
Know that this is not caused by anything you did wrong, and it’s not your fault that you are faced with this. There is a community out here that cares for your mental wellbeing, and they want to encourage you with the following...
“Sometimes when you’re feeling a tad sad, anxious, depressed, or hopeless, know that this is all a part of your growth and development. And to that, I would suggest that you reach out for support in a safe manner, but reaching out for support doesn’t mean that you’re weak; rather, it makes you stronger. Most importantly, know that you are the destiny of your well being.” -Carrie Bell Peace, RN at John D. O’Bryant
“To all who suffer from anxiety or depression, I want you to know that you are not alone and you should reach out to friends, family, counselors, doctors for help! I know it’s not easy, but I believe in you! You are still human, this is still your life, take control!” -Dahlia Elamin, John D. O’Bryant student
“Do not be afraid to call for help! I want you to be alive because you matter.” -Kiara Batista, John D. O’Bryant student
“Your mind is an entire planet. Let not what happens inside of other planets (minds), impact what goes on in yours.” -Va’Shawn Hutcherson, Boston Community Leadership Academy student
If you are feeling down and experiencing any changes to mood or behavior, and need someone to talk to, call or text the the Samaritans Boston hotline at 877-870-4673, available 24/7. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 anytime.